It is a group without stars or much fanfare, but it is precisely this: a team.
The Franklin Wildcats play basketball the right way, a mandate from their coach, Jesse Formaker, whose resume includes championship success with boys teams in previous stints.
And Formaker stands and pleads throughout, imploring his girls to, “Work! Work! Work! Guard the ball!” Message heard and received.
Playing together and competing to the point of exhaustion, No. 8-seeded Franklin beat No. 9 Woodcreek 53-46 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I opener in Elk Grove on Tuesday night.
It’s the first playoff triumph for the program since 2010 and just the third 20-win season since the school opened in 2002.
The players credit their coach for the success, and the coach credits them.
“It’s a great group of girls,” Formaker said, beaming.
Senior forward Michelle Ogunsuyi led the Wildcats’ charge, pounding away inside for a game-high 25 points - 14 above her average - and snatching 10 rebounds. She also made free throws and passed the ball.
Junior guard Malia Clark had 12 points and senior guard Jadori Erfe eight for Franklin (20-8). Clark had two corner 3-point shots in the fourth quarter to provide breathing room. Other key Franklin contributors included guards Reba and Rena Sy and Caitlin Barton and forwards Adaischa Litt and Jackie Nguyen.
Eden Perry led Woodcreek (19-9) with 14 points. Abby Moore had 10 and Sophia Covello nine for coach Raymond Beck, whose team has just one senior in Hunter Zehrung and expect to be one of the region’s top outfits next season.
The Franklin setting was festive, be it the cheers and support from the boys basketball team that starts its quest for a D-I championship run at home Wednesday night, or the public-address announcer who keeps things loose and lively and picks out unsuspecting campus teachers in the stands as the honorary guest of the hour (in this case, Dennis McIntyre for setting some sort of record for catching a fish in a faraway land).
The PA guy is Bryan Kilby, also the school’s activities director and baseball coach. Athletic director Mike Cody and Kilby heaped praise on Formaker for the coach and leader he is, for elevating the program.
Franklin vice principal Mohammad Warrad did, too, saying, “Jesse’s a great teacher - AP government and human geography. He encourages his students to take AP exams to get ready for college. The man is big time.”
Warrad is big-time ripe for ribbing - everyone is here - and Cody called him the school’s “best custodian.”
Formaker is as good a coach as there is in the region, having led the Franklin boys to five league championships and two D-I section finals (in 2009 and 2010). He stepped down from coaching following the 2014-15 season, and then got antsy.
Sitting at home two years ago with wife Susan, a Franklin math teacher, Formaker said, “I miss coaching. Do I coach another level, or at another school? The next day, I find out that we needed a girls coach. Three of the girls on this team were in my geography class. They were fantastic students so it’s worked.
“The girls have really bought in. They’re building something here, and it’s exciting.”
Cody said it was a simple, logical hire to land Formaker. His search never left campus.
Franklin reached the playoffs last season and can really turn the D-I bracket upside down with a victory on Thursday in Stockton.
The Wildcats now face top-seeded Bear Creek, which edged No. 16-seed Inderkum 58-54 in an opener. Bear Creek owns a 65-56 win over D-II top seed Antelope and routs over D-I contenders Folsom (58-38) and Cosumnes Oaks (77-50).