Sometimes, the other team is just better, and there’s no shame in that.
In playing the most significant high school basketball game in regional history, Woodcreek was up to the task, all things considered. But the slow start doomed a team known to finish strong.
The Timberwolves trailed big early and showed tremendous championship resolve to make a game of it in front of a spirited student rooting section known as the Black Mob, but there wasn’t enough time to close the gap at Golden 1 Center.
Ranked No. 4 nationally by MaxPreps.com, Bishop Montgomery looked the part of powerhouse program, withstanding the rally and salting the game away with free throws to win the CIF State Open Division title 74-67 to cap a whirlwind season and weekend at a sparkling venue that appreciated every bit of 12 championship games spanning six divisions, boys and girls.
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The Knights of Torrance led 14-0 out of the gates, sharing the ball, defending with fury and making every shot a real chore for the Timberwolves.
Woodcreek trailed by 10 entering the fourth quarter, which happened against Sheldon in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals and CIF Northern California Regional finals, and yet in those games the team found a way to win. This time, the Timberwolves ran out of steam late, and their exhausted expressions spoke of how they gave it every ounce.
Coach Paul Hayes was upbeat, proud of the effort, and he told his team as much immediately after it was over, telling them to stand tall, pointing to a large crowd. The “Black Mob” student section chanted, “Thank you, Woodcreek!”
“I told them to hold their heads high,” said the classy veteran coach. “Told them there are thousands of people here to support them.”
As for the team resolve, it’s part of the team DNA, Hayes said.
“That’s how we’ve been all season,” Hayes said. “It speaks of the integrity and effort of our kids. It’s the same thing in the classroom. That’s who these kids are as people.”
Woodcreek center Jordan Brown scored 35 points, an Open Division record, and he yanked down 17 rebounds. He started slow, making just 2 of 11 shots in the first half as he was surrounded on every inside play in a physical affair.
The good news for Woodcreek is the 6-foot-11 Brown will be back next season. Fans came to watch him play, as did college coaches from across the country, including Eric Musselman from Nevada, Damon Stoudamire from Pacific and Chris Mullin from St. John’s.
They caught a good glimpse of the national recruit with interest from every big program in the land. Brown competed and seemed to will his bunch back into it.
He powered inside to cut it to 57-51 with 4:12 to go, then again to make it 64-59 with 1:49 to play, and his two free throws with 1:23 left cut it to 66-61.
Senior guards Tyrell Roberts and Jackson Hughes had 15 and six points each for Woodcreek, which had its 19-game winning streak halted in finishing 32-3. Ethan Thompson, a terrific 6-6 combo guard headed to Oregon State, had 26 points and eight rebounds, and Jordan Schakel had 20 points as four Knights reached double figures to win their first state title.
Bishop Montgomery presented the ultimate challenge for Woodcreek, a battle-tested program out of the Southern Section, widely regarded as the best basketball section in the country. To get here, the Knights had to beat national powers Mater Dei of Santa Ana twice in the postseason and defending Open Division winner Chino Hills.
“They’re good across the board,” Hayes said of the Knights, who finished 31-2. “They’re strong, athletic, shoot the ball and are well-coached. They’re here for a reason. They survived that gauntlet in the playoffs to get here.”
Hayes paused and looked at his team, adding, “It hurts now, and it’ll hurt for awhile. But I’m so proud of them. They hung in there. Great season.”
Had Woodcreek won, it would have been the first are team to win the prestigious Open. It will settle for being the top-ranked team in Northern California, one that competes with the resolve worthy of any champion.