High School Sports

Can McClatchy hand a girls basketball power its first section playoff loss since 2007?

McClatchy girls basketball coach Jeff Ota will lead the Lions when they host St. Mary’s in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal Tuesday in Sacramento.
McClatchy girls basketball coach Jeff Ota will lead the Lions when they host St. Mary’s in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal Tuesday in Sacramento. Sacramento Bee file

The juggernaut rolls into town on Tuesday night.

It’s an unassuming lot, these Rams from St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, but wait until the game starts. Smiling faces morph into game faces and then it’s on.

St. Mary’s is in the midst of the best basketball dynasty in the history of the Sac-Joaquin Section. The Rams have set dead aim on their 12th consecutive girls section championship, including seven in a row in Division I. They have a record 19 section banners overall, spanning different divisions, and they are riding a 46-game section playoff winning streak.

St. Mary’s last lost a section playoff game in 2007, in the finals to Sacramento and coach John Langston. The Rams are 76-2 in the section playoffs since 1999 and 89-6 since 1995.

Since 2007-08, the Rams under coach Tom Gonsalves have won four CIF State titles and finished No. 1 nationally three times. Good, great and beyond.

Waiting for the Rams in a Division I semifinal on Tuesday night is McClatchy, The Bee’s preseason No. 1-ranked team that is 26-3 and seeded second in this season’s tournament. If there’s a team capable of toppling the Rams, it’s these Lions.

St. Mary’s is seeded third – unheard of for this powerhouse – as it has looked a bit more mortal than in season’s past. The Rams are 20-8 amid a national schedule.

“I didn’t know their streak was that long. Wow!” McClatchy coach Jeff Ota said. “I knew it was a long time since they’d last lost (in the section playoffs). They’re tall, athletic and can move. They can drive and shoot. Length and speed and athleticism ... they put that 2-2-1 press on you and overwhelm teams.

“It can be a close game and then you’re down 20. It’s ridiculous.”

McClatchy has found out firsthand several times over the years, including in the 2017 title game.

The Lions this season are tall, talented, skilled and experienced, anchored by four-year starters Kamryn Hall and Nia Lowery, both 5-foot-11. They can handle the ball, drive it, shoot it and defend.

Lowery is headed to Washington on scholarship. She was recently recognized at Golden 1 Center for her contributions in the community during the Kings Black History Celebration.

The other Lions starters are 5-10 junior forward/center Samaya Beatty, and guards Imani Felix and Jaidyn Wallace – the daughter of late 1980s McClatchy star guard Pat Wallace, a four-year starter at Sacramento State.

Ota was a star guard for the Lions on the 1970s. The Lions do indeed keep things in house over the generations.

Now he is challenging students to fill the Lions Den home venue. He has a team to showcase, too.

“We’ve been moving the ball, playing hard and the chemistry is pretty good,” Ota said. “We’ve got role players and others who know that they need to do more. It’s working out.”

Rio runners – Rio Americano also hosts some Rams on Wednesday as the St. Mary’s boys visit in a D-II semifinal.

The seventh-seeded Raiders and coach Chris Jones are led by guard Jake Paxton, who is quick, strong and skilled. He averages 18 points a game and has “been unstoppable all year,” Jones said.

Jonah Roth has been slowed by injury and illness, but the 6-8 center – averaging 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocks – has “been a dominant inside presence,” Jones said.

James Davis is a 6-7 stretch forward who can make 3-pointers, Mitchell Dixon is the team’s “glue guy” and muscle guy, averaging nine points and nine rebounds. He was Rio Americano’s starting quarterback. Cole Ramazzini, a shooting guard, hit six 3s to beat River Valley 65-52 in a playoff opener.

Friday’s star in a 51-46 triumph over second-seeded Rocklin was Alex Vryonis, scoring 14 points with five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Ranch rolls – Top-seeded Liberty Ranch has looked the part in rolling through the D-IV boys playoffs under coach Josh Williams, whose team has won league championships and CIF Northern California playoff games but not a section title yet.

The Hawks of Galt (28-2) have steamed past Venture Academy of Stockton 94-49 and Bear River 82-64. Isaac Padilla and Jayden Baroni led the way in the playoff opener with 26 and 21 points, respectively, and leading scorer Jalen Patterson went for 32 points on 15-of-19 shooting against Bear River while Jaime Gonzalez had 12 assists and seven rebounds.

Liberty Ranch hosts No. 4 Ripon in a semifinal on Wednesday.

Sac-Joaquin Section basketball playoffs

Here’s the remaining schedule for boys and girls basketball teams.

Girls

Division I

Tuesday semifinals

No. 13 Monterey Trail at No. 1 Bear Creek

No. 3 St. Mary’s at No. 2 McClatchy

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division II

Tuesday semifinals

No. 5 Elk Grove at No. 1 Antelope

No. 3 Whitney at No. 2 Sacramento

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division III

Tuesday semifinals

No. 8 Bradshaw Christian at No. 5 Nevada Union

No. 3 Placer at No. 2 Christian Brothers

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division IV

Tuesday semifinals

No. 4 Union Mine at No. 1 Colfax

No. 11 El Dorado at No. 2 West Campus

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division V

Tuesday semifinals

No. 4 Western Sierra at No. 1 Mariposa

No. 3 Woodland Christian at No. 2 Argonaut

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division VI

Tuesday semifinals

No. 4 Ripon Christian at No. 1 Forest Lake Christian

No. 6 Sacramento Waldorf at No. 2 Valley Christian

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Boys

Division I

Wednesday semifinals

No. 5 Oak Ridge at No. 1 Sheldon

No. 3 Modesto Christian at No. 2 Folsom

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division II

Wednesday semifinals

No. 5 Sacramento at No. 1 Grant

No. 3 St. Mary’s at No. 7 Rio Americano

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division III

Wednesday semifinals

No. 4 Manteca at No. 1 Weston Ranch

No. 3 Central Catholic at No. 2 Wood

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division IV

Wednesday semifinals

No. 4 Ripon at No. 1 Liberty Ranch

No. 3 West Campus at No. 2 Sonora

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division V

Wednesday semifinals

No. 4 Ripon Christian at No. 1 Brookside Christian

No. 11 Denair/No. 3 Sacramento Adventist winner at No. 2 Argonaut

Denair plays at Sacramento Adventist on Monday

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

Division VI

Wednesday semifinals

No. 8 Turlock Christian at No. 4 Big Valley Christian

No. 3 Vacaville Christian at No. 2 Sacramento Waldorf

Championship

Feb. 22 or 23 at Golden 1 Center

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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