Mike Ruble coaches one way – frenetic and then some. He stomps, he barks, he encourages, sometimes all on the same possession.
So when the longtime Bradshaw Christian High School girls basketball coach felt unusually sluggish and out of sorts last month, and then worse, he was rushed into a hospital, where the news was grim. The 47-year-old Ruble required open-heart surgery.
He was laid out for five days, and then pleaded with doctors to let him return to coaching. You know, good for the heart, spirit and soul. His physician agreed, but insisted Ruble tone it down on the bench, which is like expecting Bobby Knight to coach without animation and noise.
Ruble was in his element on Saturday afternoon at Golden 1 Center, coaching as if his life depended on it. Ruble’s gritty and skilled team rewarded him with the biggest win in program history. Storming to big leads in the first and third quarters and then holding on down the stretch, Bradshaw Christian defeated No. 2-seeded Christian Brothers 52-49 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship.
As the 8th seed, the Pride, located in south Sacramento, continued to topple higher seeds. It’s the eighth section banner for Bradshaw Christian, all under the demanding Ruble, who towers at 6-foot-8 but is all teddy bear inside, according to his players.
“Doctors wanted me to sit on the bench and be calm,” Ruble said, his players rolling their eyes in front of him. “But I’m OK. A little sore, but feeling good. The girls did an awesome job.”
Assistant coaches Alex Williams and Marissa Wimbley took over for Ruble, and they were joined by scores of players for visits at the hospital. Those gestures touched Ruble, who said this is a family-feel team.
Ruble is hard on his players – “Box out! Screen! Talk out there!” – and he hugs them up just the same. The Pride players were inspired to excel for him.
“This was important to us to do this for coach,” said senior guard Cookie Marques, seated in a wheelchair after hurting her knee in the fourth quarter.
Balanced scoring, defense and poise down the stretch allowed the surging Pride (18-13) to dethrone the two-time defending champion Falcons (21-9). Both teams will advance to the CIF Northern California playoffs that start at home sites this week. Bradshaw Christian will do so with an extra bounce in its step.
Jordan Patterson scored 18 pints for the Pride, and Aaliyah Harris had 13. Anaya Mejia had nine, Jasalyn Brown seven and Marques five. Those starters were the only ones to score, though Erin Pinkney contributed four rebounds.
Brown’s free throw with 9 seconds left pushed the Pride ahead 52-48 and left scores of family to sigh in relief. Her cousin, Rebekah Brown, won the D-II section title for Sacramento High on the same floor, same basket, on Friday night against Antelope with a free throw with less than a second to play.
Chance Sims, the lone senior on the Christian Brothers roster, had 25 points, and Bria Shine added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Bradshaw Christian opened 25 years ago as a kindergarten through 12th grade school, and once it started rolling in high school sports, the goals were ambitious. The Pride never kept it a secret that they wanted to win section championships, and they have in various sports, including football and baseball.
Ruble has been a fixture on campus as a teacher, coach, administrator and general spiritual leader. The section moves teams up in classification after sustained championship success, and teams can move down after a lack of title success.
But Bradshaw Christian asked the section to keep it in D-III, and here they are.
“We’d rather get punched in the face instead of walking over teams in the playoffs,” Ruble said. “We know what we’re capable of. These are teenage girls, high school athletes, and sometimes we have drama, but we show character, and we’re champions.”