Jordan Cruz is back, ready for more.
The McClatchy High School senior is getting back into basketball shape after missing much of the season with a knee strain, and this pretty much means the rest of the Sac-Joaquin Section is on notice.
Cruz scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half in the most encouraging effort of her frustrating season, and the Bee-ranked No. 2 Lions shared the ball and defended with purpose to topple top-ranked Sacramento 65-52 on Wednesday night at the Dave Hotell Pavilion – otherwise known as The Lair – in Oak Park.
The regular-season finale left both teams as co-Metropolitan Conference champions.
Cruz is a fourth-year starter, one of the most accomplished players in program history. She was a key cog to the Lions making regional history two seasons ago when McClatchy became the first Sacramento City Unified School District girls program to win a state championship, doing so in Division I with a rousing effort at Cal. Cruz is headed to Utah on scholarship, but wants to wins a ton more games first.
This was her third game back.
“My heart is in it 100 percent and my mind, too, but by body is probably 80 percent,” Cruz said of her knee and conditioning. “It was hard to sit and watch so many games but I didn’t pout. I wanted our team to win.”
McClatchy (24-3, 13-1) has beaten its chief rival twice this season, the first outing coming in the West Coast Jamboree, the largest girls tournament in the country.
Last month, Sacramento defeated the McClatchy 54-48 in a full and festive setting at McClatchy. Wednesday wasn’t a sellout, but it was still plenty loud and energized.
McClatchy won with balanced scoring. The Lions hit jumpers, made 3-pointers, ran the break and hustled for loose balls to match the frenetic energy of the Dragons, who used these principals to win the last meeting.
Kamryn Hall scored 15 for McClatchy and Kamaree Donald used quickness and shooting to produce 14 points. Courtesy Clark, active on both ends of the floor, scored 11 points and Sara Shimizu epitomized her team’s grit by attacking the lane and playing fierce defense.
RyAnne Walters led Sacramento (19-8, 13-1) with 12 points, and Andriana Avent and Sasha Brown scored 11 each.
The only shame here is there will not be a rematch. McClatchy expects to be a high seed in the Division I playoffs, and Sacramento the same in Division II. The postseason starts next week. The section seedings will be announced at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday from the section’s Lodi office.
“I think we can be successful in the playoffs – if we play with heart,” Cruz said.
That won’t be a problem, coach Jeff Ota said. A McClatchy star in the late 1970s and a longtime coaching fixture with the boys and girls, Ota was pleased with his team’s effort.
Actually, it’s a mandate, particularly with Que K. Ngo on the bench. He is the Lions’ spirited and animated assistant coach whose face contorts horribly at the mere hint of a lack of hustle.
“They do play hard,” Ota said of his team. “And we have to with Coach Q here!”
It was banner night over all for the McClatchy program. Before the varsity game, the Lions’ JV team beat Sacramento 63-45 to cap a 22-0 season.
The coaches – Jackie Wada and Tricia Ota – are also alums who played basketball on McClatchy girls teams that elevated the program under famed coach Harvey Tahara, also a mentor and friend to Jeff Ota. Tricia Ota is the daughter of the varsity coach.