Sheldon boys basketball wins section title
They played 32 exhaustive minutes, went through the emotional gamut, dog-piled for good measure, and then still had the juice to sing-song and skip merrily down the back halls of Golden 1 Center on Saturday night.
Teenage legs can do that, bolstered by the joy of victory.
Rallying from 13 down late in the third quarter and by nine with just over 4 minutes to play, and then agonizing over one final shot, top-seeded Sheldon High School held off defending champion Modesto Christian 64-61 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals, a show every bit as good as advertised.
The crowd stood the final frantic moments, soaking in all manner of team tradition, athleticism, skill, defense and the stakes at hand. Modesto Christian beat Sheldon in the finals a year ago at Pacific, thanks in large part to a dramatic late 40-foot 3-pointer. This time, no such good fortune found the storied Crusaders who set aim on their 20th section banner.
A final attempt for Modesto Christian was long, and the Huskies ran out the final seconds to secure the program’s fifth section this decade, all under coach Joey Rollings.
He agonized for his players over last-second section title losses in 2015 to Folsom, 2017 to Woodcreek and last season. This time, even the stern coach was all grins.
“The last three years ... we’ve been through it,” he said. “We know what it feels like to lose it. It hurts. “It looked a little dim in the third quarter (on Saturday) but we always fight to the end.”
The Sheldon fight includes 10 players who saw the floor, each understanding that he has to play defense and share the ball or he gets pulled. There was never a concern of effort here, just if there would be enough time to take the lead.
Senior cornerstone leaders Justin Nguyen and Kaito Williams led the scoring with 13 points each, and their tenacious defense – steals, deny your man – helped spark the late rally.
Nguyen hit Xavion Brown for an alley-oop dunk to pull to within 55-51 with 3:13 to go, then had back-to-back buckets a moment later for a 57-55 lead. An Xavier Brown putback gave Sheldon a 59-57 lead with 1:33 to go, and a Darren Tobias three-point play with 41.5 seconds to go pushed the Huskies head to stay at 62-59.
Tobias had a bucket with 22.5 left to account for the final score. He had nine. Josh Williams hustled for 10 rebounds, Xavier Brown had eight points, Xavion Brown six and Brennen Newson six.
Sheldon starts an all-guard lineup, each capable shooters, ball handlers and defenders. Nguyen and Williams are the lone senior starters, and each took this victory personal.
“I almost started crying when it was over,” Williams said. “I looked for Justin right away and ran immediately to him. The weight is off our shoulders.”
Said Nguyen, like many of his teammates a good student, “Four years we’ve been close and we finally got this one.”
There is more work to do. Sheldon expects a high seed, perhaps as high as No. 2 behind Cal-Hi State No. 1 Salesian of Richmond, for the CIF Northern California Open Division tournament that starts next week. This is the best of the best, public and private schools.
Sheldon won the NorCal Open a year ago. Modesto Christian will also advance, and wouldn’t a rematch be dandy?
Sheldon is also hopeful of the return of its best player, 6-foot-8 junior guard/wing Marcus Bagley. A sore back has sidelined him for all four section playoff games. He walked gingerly during and after the game, in street clothes, but told teammates he will be game ready next week.
Alex Merkviladze led the Crusaders with 18 points, and Aaron Murphy ad 13 points and 10 rebounds.