Sports

Third time is the (continued) charm for West Campus basketball: ‘We expected to do this’

With Juliana Edinburgh (23) in front, West Campus girls basketball teamcelebrates its 49-45 overtime victory over Union Mine in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game, the Friday afternoon’s section final between Liberty Ranch and Sonora at the Golden 1 Center.
With Juliana Edinburgh (23) in front, West Campus girls basketball teamcelebrates its 49-45 overtime victory over Union Mine in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game, the Friday afternoon’s section final between Liberty Ranch and Sonora at the Golden 1 Center. jvillegas@sacbee.com

When it was over, when the comeback was complete, the star player and veteran coach locked eyes for a moment.

The player — Gabby Rones — waved at John Langston, the taskmaster of a program that in several short seasons has burst onto the scene as something of a girls basketball trendsetter.

With Rones doing her thing, which is to say a bit of everything, and with Langston extolling calm amid any chaos, West Campus High School three-peated as Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion Friday afternoon at Golden 1 Center, rallying to beat Union Mine 49-45 in overtime.

Battle tested with a statewide schedule, the Warriors (15-14) of the Sacramento Unified School District trailed until the late stages of regulation, a credit to the length and tenacity of upstart Union Mine of El Dorado.

Rones never stressed it, and neither did the old coach. Their poise carried over to the team, a stark contrast to fans and family that were flabbergasted calls didn’t go their way.

Rones is a third-year starting guard, just a junior, whose pedigree includes two CIF State championships. She’s a heady ball handler, an alert passer, a deadly shooter close and from distance, and a fierce defender.

In short, the 5-foot-4 Rones is a complete player, scoring a game-high 27 points. Among her efforts were a 3-pointer to tie it at 41-41 with just over a moment to play in regulation, and a 3 for the lead for good with 1:27 left.

While everyone else seemed to be tiring, Rones found an extra gear.

“I ride her,” Langston said of Rones’ work load. “She never rests. She’s been here. I expect her to do more than she already does. We ride on her shoulders and just keep going.”

Rones is not a one-person team, however. The West Campus support crew may not be the biggest in the section, but it’s as tough and versatile as you’ll find.

Simone Johnson had eight points and 12 rebounds for West Campus, Rashida Myers had seven and five, Juliana Edinburgh had five and five, and Nesi Finau provided three blocked shots and five rebounds.

Key reserves included Francis Doherty, Dominique Montgomery and Alexis Terrell.

“Star players are nothing without support,” said Langston, a big man and a big-picture thinker in hoops and life. “What the other girls do is amazing. Stars are stars, but a team is a team, and we have a team.”

A team with a star.

West Campus doesn’t impose fear with big bodies. This is one short outfit, without any 6-footers.

“We’re shorter than everyone we play,” Langston said. “We have to swarm like bees on defense, and we do. We don’t think we’re ever out of a game as long as we play our kind of defense. Defense will always carry us.

“We started something nine years ago here, and the girls are relentless. They’ve worked so hard, and here we are — we’re back.”

Rones says little in game and little after, though her broad grins spoke of her glee.

“We expected to be here, to do this,” Rones said.

Of Langston, she said, “He’s our dad out here. We want to make him proud. We work so hard for him and for us.”

A stellar student like many of her teammates, Rones said a Friday afternoon of hoops at an NBA venue was a “great” excuse to get out of school. But there’s more work to do.

“We want more three-peats,” she said in reference to NorCal and CIF State banners. NorCal play starts Tuesday.

Union Mine (20-8) will be in that mix, as all section finalists advance.

The Diamondbacks were coming off a 39-31 upset of top-seeded Colfax. Union Mine on Friday was led by Ali McDonald with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Carley Zaragoza with 17 points and 19 rebounds.

This was Union Mine’s first trip to a section final, a far cry for a school that labored through 15 consecutive losing seasons when it opened, a streak that ended in 2012-13.

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Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988 and is award-winning authority on high school sports, specializing in going behind the scenes. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.

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