First it was a trek to Oakland, followed three days later by a longer journey to the central valley.
At this point, coach Geoff Broyles and his upstart Del Oro Golden Eagles would bike the 325 miles to Tulelake for a chance to extend their high school basketball season. Seeded 13th in the CIF Northern California Division II tournament, Del Oro has staged back-to-back upsets, needing one more to really topple the field.
The Golden Eagles (18-14) visit top-seeded Saint Francis in Mountain View (20-9) on Tuesday night in a semifinal, fearing no obstacles. Another upset victory would put the Golden Eagles into Saturday’s NorCal D-II final with a trip to the CIF State championship at stake.
“We’re (traveling in) all different directions, but we don’t mind because it means we’re still playing,” said Broyles, completing his 15th season at Del Oro. “We’re having a great time. Their resilience, believing in each other, and watching them grow has been special.”
Del Oro inspired little fear entering the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, losing its last three Sierra Foothill League games to end the regular season. Seeded 12th, Del Oro started toppling the higher seeds on the road, beating No. 5 Inderkum 75-68 in overtime and No. 4 Grant 75-52 before falling to top-seeded Whitney 60-52 in a semifinal in Stockton. In a NorCal first-round game, Del Oro defeated longtime NorCal powerhouse and fourth-seeded Bishop O’Dowd 62-55 in the East Bay, and on Saturday the Golden Eagles drove three hours to Fresno to deliver a 66-56 knockout of No. 5 San Joaquin Memorial.
“We’re definitely playing our best ball of the season,” Broyles said. “We’re in a rhythm. We only had our full lineup for four of the 12 SFL games due to injuries or illness.”
Del Oro has been led by Stone Smartt, a Bee All-Metro football player. The 6-foot-4 senior headed to Northern Arizona on a football ride has led the Golden Eagles in scoring in the postseason while providing steady floor leadership.
“Great kid, great student, great leader,” Broyles said of Smartt. “He’s so composed. He has a calming effect on everyone around him. He does so many good things for us, a big body who’s hard to matchup with because he can score inside or out, has great anticipation skills, is a good rebounder. He’s a really fun player to coach and to watch, a very special athlete.”
Smartt is joined in the starting lineup by guards Murphy Harrison and Dante Pericin. The forwards are Chris Aibuedefe and Trevor Drake.
Del Oro reached the NorCal finals in Division III twice: In 1989 under coach Bill Barker and 1998 with coach Joe Hites.
Open drama – Woodcreek and Sheldon won NorCal Open Division first-round games in dramatic fashion.
The top-seeded Timberwolves beat Capital Christian 68-66 with Tyrell Roberts scoring 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and 6-11 center Jordan Brown adding 20 points and 20 rebounds. Woodcreek (30-2) on Tuesday hosts De La Salle of Concord (28-5).
Second-seeded Sheldon beat Bellarmine of San Jose 47-46 behind Isaiah Duplechan’s corner 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining. Those were the only points of the second half for Duplecham, whose twin brother Elishja had 14 points. Sheldon (29-3) on Tuesday hosts Mitty, another San Jose power. Mitty beat Bellarmine for the Central Coast Section Open title. Sheldon beat Mitty 71-64 in a season opener on Dec. 14. Mitty (18-10) has won seven consecutive games.
D-I party – Three of the final four teams in the NorCal D-I girls field are local – two of them league opponents. Second-seed McClatchy hosts No. 3 Heritage of Brentwood on Tuesday and ninth-seed Folsom visits Sierra Foothill League rival and No. 4-seed Oak Ridge. The teams split their two previous meetings this season.
McClatchy beat Oak Ridge in a section semifinal.
NorCal D-I and Open Division boys and girls title games will be held Saturday at Santa Clara University’s Leavey Center. Other division title games will be held at the site of the higher seed.
The winners advance to the CIF State finals on March 24-25 at Golden 1 Center.