This one was just as exhaustive and just as emotional, but it meant a great deal more than the first meeting 14 days earlier.
The stakes were grand for the top two teams in Northern California on Saturday night at Leavey Center, a cozy venue that once housed iconic University of Santa Clara players Dennis Awtrey, Steve Nash and Kurt Rambis, each of their jerseys retired in the rafters.
And wow, would those one-time NBA performers be impressed with the grit and skill shown here. It wasn’t just the athletes from Woodcreek and Sheldon that went home spent. The coaches, band members and fans staggered out, too, have soaked in an intense, history-making contest.
Top-seeded Woodcreek rallied from 10 down entering the fourth quarter to stomp on the hearts of second-seeded Sheldon for the second time, delivering a 66-59 victory for the CIF NorCal Open Division championship.
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Let that sink in for a moment.
The Open Division was created in 2013 to, in effect, place the powerhouse private schools into an elite eight-team division, allowing public schools a better fighting chance in the other divisions. Then something remarkable happened this season. Two public schools – Woodcreek and Sheldon – marched through the opening rounds, beating Bay Area heavies along the way in the semifinals.
Sheldon reached the NorCal Open finals in 2013, falling to Aaron Gordon and Mitty of San Jose, and now it’s Woodcreek basking in this new glow, riding a 19-game winning streak and vowing to make it 20.
The Timberwolves won the NorCal D-II championship in 2003 under coach Paul Hayes, a great feat to be sure, but this takes the cake. The Open is where the big boys play.
Hayes was moved by his team’s spirit and resolve, as they stormed back with an 11-1 run to tie it in the fourth quarter and seized control behind balanced scoring, defensive grit and the outstanding overall effort of the best player in NorCal.
Jordan Brown, the 6-foot-11 national recruit, scored 31 points, yanked down 17 rebounds and blocked three shots after being stalled with foul trouble against Sheldon in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-I final. Brown, a junior, won that game 69-68 in Stockton on two free throws with 0.1 seconds left. The Timberwolves rallied from 10 down in that game, too.
“To stick together, to stay after it, it shows great resiliency,” Hayes said. “Just awesome. Both of these teams bring out the best in each other. That’s a great team over there. I don’t want to see Sheldon again.”
Brown, tough and poised, is flanked by a terrific supporting cast. Guard Tyrell Roberts had 17 points and made all 10 of his free throws, guard Jackson Hughes had eight points, Chris Cagle five and Delis Boggs-Smith five. The Timberwolves made just 1 of 9 3-pointers, but made up for it with drives and by pounding the ball inside to Brown.
“It’s everybody,” Brown said of what makes Woodcreek roll. “We’ve got stoppers, rebounders, game controllers. It feels great.”
As for the notion that Woodcreek players would sack out on the way home from exhaustion? No chance.
“We’re not sleeping – too much adrenaline,” Brown said with a laugh.
Elishja Duplechan led Sheldon with 31 points. The senior guard with Ivy League interest hit 3-pointers, runners and attacked the rim. He played like a champion.
Duplechan buried his face into his hands after the game, looking at the court.
“Basketball is a game of runs and they got the last one,” he said. “It seemed to last forever. We just kind of fell apart and they did what they needed to do, just like last time. It hurts.”
Sheldon forward L.J. Williams had 13 points, though the Huskies sorely missed senior four-year varsity player Drew Cobb, a strong guard who has had an All-Metro season along with Duplechan.
Cobb was slowed by strep throat, managing four minutes and no points.
The sportsmanship was strong between the teams out of mutual respect as many of the players have known each other for years.
“I feel so bad for Drew Cobb,” Hughes of Woodcreek said. “It’s a great win for us, but we’re not done.”
Not by a long shot. Woodcreek caps the high school season in this state by playing in the showcase game Saturday at Golden 1 Center in the CIF State Open Division championship against Bishop Montgomery of Torrance, which beat longtime national power Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the Southern California regional, 60-53. Bishop Montgomery is ranked fourth nationally by Maxpreps.com.