Jeff Ota considered bowling for Monday’s off-day team adventure, then thought better of it.
The McClatchy High School girls basketball coach instead opted for a round of miniature golf for his gritty group of Lions, the pride of the Sacramento City Unified School District and a proud old school that has to clear out a bit more room on a filling-fast trophy case.
Miniature-golf rounds will be a stark contrast for McClatchy compared to Saturday’s frenetic, bruising pace at Leavey Center.
With suffocating, attacking defense, depth and just enough offensive balance, the second-seeded Lions defeated No. 4 Oak Ridge 46-34 to win the CIF Northern California Division I Regional championship in a venue matching the school’s cardinal colors.
It’s the second such title for McClatchy (31-4) in three years, and it is the third win in as many attempts against the Trojans this season, no easy feat considering how good that program has been in El Dorado Hills under longtime coach Steve White. McClatchy beat Oak Ridge (23-11) for the NorCal title in 2015, and the Trojans eliminated the Lions in last season’s playoffs.
Two years ago when the Lions became the first SCUSD girls team to win a state championship in any sport, they celebrated with bowling. No chance this time.
“I don’t want to tire their arms out,” Ota said with a laugh.
The coach needs the heavy lifting for one more game, next Friday at Golden 1 Center at 6 p.m. against Southern California D-I champion Windward of Los Angeles. And he may be ripe for defeat on the links, last playing miniature golf, “at least 20 years ago,” he said.
Ota was beaming Saturday, nearly as spent as the players. He starred for the Lions in the 1970s, and he’s been a longtime boys coach and assistant for the girls, taking over as head coach for Jessica Kunisaki this season after she accepted an assistant-coaching spot at Sacramento State. Ota grew up playing defense and stresses it now with assistant coach Que K. Ngo, the most energized man in any building.
Ota received encouraging text messages this week from his coaching mentor and friend Harvey Tahara, the father of the program and still a passionate fan.
“Hell yes, I’m proud,” Ota said, all grins. “They earned it. They played so hard. I use Harvey’s defensive concepts still. They still work.”
Senior guards Courtesy Clark and Richelle Turney had 12 points each to lead the Lions, who played 10 players, each bent on defending with purpose. Guard Kamryn Hall scored nine points with five rebounds and four assists in displaying the versatility that makes her one of the most unsung players in NorCal. Senior wing Jordan Cruz had eight points and took a hard spill into the seats late but vowed to be ready to go for the state final.
She’s been there before, a Lions starter in 2015. Two key reserves from that team are also back for another title run in guards Kamaree Donald and Sara Shimizu, who epitomizes McClatchy’s hustle with relentless pressure. Forward Nia Lowery and guard Jenna Waki also provided valuable minutes.
Clark sets a tone with her on-ball defense, ball handling and ability hit jumpers and drive to the basket.
“It starts with defense,” she said.
Oak Ridge used a 15-0 run to take a 24-19 lead in third quarter, a tribute to the will of the taller Trojans, who held the Lions to their fewest points of the season. McClatchy outscored Oak Ridge 17-6 in the fourth quarter.
McClatchy athletic director Rob Feickert, a SCUSD product as a Sacramento High alum, eagerly high-fived each Lions player as they accepted postgame awards from CIF staffers.
“Great kids, great coach, great job,” Feickert said.