New faces, injuries, weary legs from a long football season and an ambitious early schedule played a role in a 1-4 start.
Once everyone was plugged into place, the Capital Christian Cougars found a new gear in a basketball season laced with great promise, and it starts with stifling, in-your-nostrils defense.
The Cougars put the muscle to Liberty Ranch and cut off any easy access to the bucket in storming to a 13-0 lead Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena, and then they methodically polished off the cold-shooting Falcons from Galt 72-57 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game.
It’s the fourth consecutive title for the Cougars and fourth in this division. A year ago, Capital Christian was the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in the region by The Bee, reaching the Northern California Open Division I final, though only Justice Shelton-Mosley returned from that star-studded starting lineup.
But what an anchor to bring back.
Shelton-Mosley is mature beyond his years, the Harvard-bound football star serving as floor leader, peer mentor on campus and a high-character example of what can be so rewarding about high school sports. He led Capital Christian (23-8) with 13 points and was recognized for his sportsmanship after the game by section officials.
“We have some experience, as a few of our guys have been here before, but not starters,” Capital Christian coach Devon Jones said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever coach a person like Justice Shelton-Mosley again. He’s been the leader of our program almost from the start. He has a big voice here.”
The message Saturday was to defend with purpose and be patient on offense. Liberty Ranch was 0 for 7 from the floor in the first quarter and 1 for 16 in the half in trailing 30-16. The Hawks, in the section final for the second time in three seasons under impressive young coach Josh Williams, shot 30 percent for the game in enduring NBA venue jitters.
“It was a very strange start,” said Williams, whose team will advance to the NorCal Regional, which starts next week. “Obviously, we shot horribly. I mean, one field goal in the first half? We competed well, we fought back well, but that start killed us.”
Said Jones, “When we play hard, the games we’ve won is because we’ve been really good on defense. That’s our identity now. Liberty Ranch is a great team, and DeAndre Stallings is a great player.”
Stallings, a 6-foot-7 wing, scored 15 points, but nothing came easy. He made 4 of 14 shots. Isaiah Halsey scored 19 for Liberty Ranch.
Capital Christian was balanced, with Edward Ware scoring 12, Zachary Chappell 12 and Tiegen Jones 11, with 12 rebounds.
Tiegen Jones is the son of the coach, and the junior guard/forward gets an earful from his father: Move your feet, box out, defend! Father and son wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“I didn’t know I’d enjoy coaching him so much,” Devon Jones said. “I’m tougher on Tiegen than maybe anyone else. I’m extremely proud of him and all of the guys.”
Capital Christian this academic year has won section titles in soccer, golf, football and girls and boys basketball.
“There’s a great culture of success on campus,” Shelton-Mosley said. “It starts with the teachers and staff. Everyone works hard. Everyone cares.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.