Four teams standing.
That’s the narrative for the surviving high school basketball teams that represent the region as the season nears the finish line. Each will play for a CIF Northern California Regional championship Saturday at Sleep Train Arena with at least one local school guaranteed a trip to the state finals at Cal on March 28-29.
McClatchy and Oak Ridge meet in the Division I girls final at 2 p.m., following the Sacramento-Mitty of San Jose boys D-II championship and preceding the Woodcreek-San Ramon Valley of Danville boys D-I contest.
The common bond is three of the four area schools lost in their last visit to Sleep Train Arena. None won a Sac-Joaquin Section championship, and Oak Ridge didn’t even reach the girls finals, losing to McClatchy in a section semifinals. Because all four teams were section semifinalists, their seasons continued in NorCal competition.
Capital Christian, on the other hand, did enjoy its Sleep Train experience, winning a D-IV boys title, and the Cougars play for the NorCal championship today at American Canyon High against Saint Mary's of Albany at 6 p.m.
“We all got a second chance, new life, new breath,” Sacramento coach Derek Swafford said. “I know we’re excited. We didn’t feel like we peaked, but we have now. We’re ready.”
The double-elimination format has benefited area teams before.
Woodcreek didn’t reach the section finals in 2011 yet reached the NorCal D-II finals. Woodcreek earlier this month lost to Sheldon in the section semifinals and vowed to make a NorCal run.
“We wanted another chance at Sleep Train,” Woodcreek guard Noah Blackwell said after his team toppled top-seeded De La Salle of Concord in a NorCal semifinal. “We got it and we’re making the best of it.”
Sacramento and Swafford can relate to section missteps only to recover big. The Dragons didn’t win the 2008 section title – losing to El Camino – but wound up winning the NorCal championship.
Pleasant Grove seized its opportunity in recent years, serving as motivation for the remaining four teams now. The Eagles didn’t win the D-I boys section title in 2013, yet wound up winning the state D-I title weeks later. Last season, the Pleasant Grove girls lost in a section semifinal yet emerged as NorCal D-I champions.
McClatchy (25-7) beat Oak Ridge (27-4) on March 3 at Pacific in a section semifinal behind pressure defense and the inside play of Gigi Garci and Destiny Lee. McClatchy coach Jessica Kunisaki and Oak Ridge coach Steve White anticipate a game to the wire this time.
Sacramento (28-5) lost to Open Division finalist Modesto Christian 49-46 in the D-II section finals and has played its best ball since, including an 85-60 rout of St. Mary’s of Stockton in a NorCal semifinal. The Dragons are led by 6-foot-7 center Solomon Young, who will be matched inside against 6-8 center Ben Kone of Mitty (19-10).
Post play will be paramount in the D-I final. Woodcreek (27-5) is led in scoring and rebounding by 6-9 freshman Jordan Brown, averaging 22.7 points and 10.5 rebounds. He’ll go against 6-10 center Greg Polosky of San Ramon Valley (25-6), which is also enjoying new life as a non-section title winner.
The Wolves lost three times to De La Salle this season, twice in East Bay Athletic League play and in a North Coast Section D-I semifinal. Yet they’ll play in their first NorCal title game since winning back-to-back titles in 1991 and ’92.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.