Joe Davidson

West Campus girls end drought; Warriors boys lose heartbreaker

The West Campus Warriors react after a teammate makes a three-point shot at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game between the No. 1 seed West Campus Warriors and the No. 3 seed Foothill Mustangs on Friday, March 3, 2017, at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton.
The West Campus Warriors react after a teammate makes a three-point shot at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game between the No. 1 seed West Campus Warriors and the No. 3 seed Foothill Mustangs on Friday, March 3, 2017, at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton. aseng@sacbee.com

John Langston casts an imposing image on the sideline, towering and glowering, and relentlessly challenging his troops to make stops.

When it was over, when the top-seeded West Campus High School girls basketball team carved out a piece of history, Langston morphed into one big teddy bear. Hugs were abundant after the Warriors rolled Foothill 83-57 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship Friday afternoon at Pacific.

Since West Campus didn’t fully embrace the even-year championship cycle, the Warriors emphatically erased years of frustration by overwhelming the Mustangs with defense, depth and execution. West Campus lost section title games in 2012, 2014 and 2016. The cloud over championship shortcomings has been whisked away by championship cheer.

“It was always hovering over us, and you never want anything to hover,” Langston said. “So this feels absolutely fantastic. This is what it feels like to win.”

West Campus split from Johnson High in 2002 to become its own school, and under Langston it became a rising basketball power this decade. Johnson has never achieved such success in girls basketball, having produced one playoff team in the program’s 40-year history.

What’s more, West Campus (25-4) became just the third Sacramento City Unified School District girls basketball team to win a championship, joining Kennedy and McClatchy, programs that have combined to win six D-I banners since 2001. (Sacramento High has won section titles but only after leaving the SCUSD in 2003 to become a charter school.)

Kiara Jefferson produced 13 points, Nia Johnson 12 and Gabriella Rones 10 to lead 11 Warriors in scoring. Fifteen West Campus players saw time, part of Langston’s strength-in-numbers mantra.

Johnson and sister Nadia transferred from Antelope this season and now can boast of a championship. Their father, Leland Johnson, played guard on Kennedy championship teams in 1990 and ’91.

Kiara Dempsey scored 16 and Makaila Sanders 12 for Foothill (26-5).

Langston coached Sacramento to a girls section title in 2007, and he was beaming after his second banner.

“I believe in winning,” Langston said. “I preach winning. If we play hard and do the right things, a lot of good things happen, like winning. They’re all champions now. This can propel them to next level, because in life, you have to work to win, to succeed. And when you earn something, it feels good.”

Boys

Central Catholic 89, West Campus 79 (OT) – Amrit Dhaliwal made three free throws with .01 left in regulation as Central Catholic erased a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime, and the top-seeded Raiders cruised from there to repeat as D-IV boys champions in beating the Warriors in successive title games.

Jared Rice, a football star on the Raiders’ state championship program, had 29 points, Cooper Wilson 26 and Dhaliwal 17. Central Catholic (24-7) took its first lead since 8-6 in the first quarter in overtime. The Raiders ended practice Thursday by practicing free throws under pressure – down three, little time left .

Central outscored the Warriors 41-19 in the fourth quarter and overtime as Rice scored 21 after halftime. Last season, Central beat West Campus 47-46 to end a 28-year championship drought. West Campus (21-10) missed seven consecutive free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter Friday.

Eric Alston scored 24 points and Quincy Taylor 14 for West Campus, which made just one of six shots in overtime and missed 15 free-throw tries in the game.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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