A year ago, the Folsom Bulldogs stormed onto the high school basketball scene.
They won Sac-Joaquin Section and Northern California Regional Division II championships behind Bee Player of the Year Jordan Ford and Bee Coach of the Year Mike Wall.
This season, with all manner of great expectations resting on their slight shoulders, the Bulldogs crept up on no one. There were even whispers that this season’s outfit wasn’t as consistently crisp or as driven.
Such talk died for good Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena. Back in the D-I ranks, Folsom throttled Pleasant Grove 71-54 in a semifinal, relying on old tricks such as teamwork, depth, desire and defense.
Now the Bulldogs (26-4) seek their fourth section banner since 2008. Folsom, which won back-to-back D-I titles in 2008-09, faces Sheldon on Saturday night at Sleep Train. The Huskies, who won four successive D-I championships after Folsom’s repeat, advanced by beating Woodcreek 62-55.
“Last year we were an unknown quantity – are they really that good?” Wall said. “We had that burden of expectations this season, expected to be really good, microwavable out of the box. We had some bumps in the road with injuries, guys going on football recruiting trips, and those expectations.
“Now we’re back here and playing well, and it’s like, ‘OK, we can breathe a little.’”
Folsom didn’t allow Pleasant Grove (21-9) much breathing room. The Bulldogs surrendered some crowd-pleasing dunks to Marquese Chriss, the only holdover starter from the Eagles’ 2013 CIF Division I state title team. But they prevented Chriss’ teammates from heating up.
The 6-foot-9 Chriss, headed to Washington on scholarship, had 20 points, including four dunks. But he was slowed by foul trouble and logged just 16 minutes in a 32-minute game.
Chriss was the only Eagle to reach double figures, and his 8-for-11 shooting helped salvage Pleasant Grove’s otherwise poor shooting (18 for 56, 32 percent).
As has been the norm for Folsom the last two seasons, balanced scoring and an unselfish mindset led the way. Ford, the smooth junior guard, had 17 points. Tre Finch had 12, Jared Wall 11, Colin Russell 10 and Alec Andrews nine.
Wall also grabbed nine rebounds and dived over sideline seats for a ball. Lukas Hendricks had eight rebounds and Parker Boone seven. All told, nine Folsom players scored and 17 players saw action.
And those expectations? The Bulldogs are coping just fine. No one wants to achieve more than this bunch.
“In the beginning of the season, we let those expectations go to our heads,” Russell said. “We heard, ‘Oh, they were more fired up last year,’ and there might have been some truth in that. But we’re fired up again. We’re motivated.”
And that depth?
“That’s what makes us special,” Ford said. “We have eight guys, 10 guys deep. We sub in players and keep the pressure on. And it’s great to live up to those expectations again.”
Pleasant Grove also advances to the CIF Northern California Regional tournament, though as a low seed it will have to go on the road.