Joe Davidson

Folsom tops El Cerrito, braces for No. 1 in state

Folsom Bulldogs guard Jordan Ford (1) raises his first toward the student body after the Bulldogs 78-75 victory on Friday evening, March 13, 2015 in the CIF playoff basketball game between Folsom High School and El Cerrito at Vista Del Lago High School in Folsom.
Folsom Bulldogs guard Jordan Ford (1) raises his first toward the student body after the Bulldogs 78-75 victory on Friday evening, March 13, 2015 in the CIF playoff basketball game between Folsom High School and El Cerrito at Vista Del Lago High School in Folsom. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Now the mother of all challenges beckons in the form of a 6-foot-11 interior talent with guard skills who is already projected as NBA worthy in a year or so. 

Not to mention Ivan Rabb's fleet-footed teammates from Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland.

For now, the Folsom Bulldogs will savor Friday night's stirring and exhausting 78-75 victory over El Cerrito in a CIF Northern California Open Division opener at overflow Vista del Lago, again showcasing championship poise and grit in front of an anxious, on-your-feet crowd.

The room temperature in the cramped gym mirrored the game action that was at times frenetic and fun to the wire. Folsom, in its first foray in the prestigious Open that is reserved for the monster programs, showed it could keep pace with the athletic and muscle-bound Gauchos of the North Coast Section, a group that took the floor looking like the Laney College team on loan.

Jordan Ford, as he has for two spectacular seasons, took over at times with drives down the lane, and dribble-drive floaters that resembled Steph Curry of the Warriors. Ford had 23 points, but as the Bulldogs have shown over these last two championship-molding campaigns, he is hardly a one-man machine. Folsom is defined by teamwork and depth. Jared Wall had 16 points, and Tre Finch and Josiah Deguara had 15 each. Alec cq Andrews had three points but contributed mightily otherwise with deft passing, defense and calm. Colin Russell and Lukas Hendricks also had strong moments, even if just combining for four points.

"To be a championship team," Ford explained after the game while mobbed by fans young and old, "you have got to have contributions from everyone. Everyone has to make plays, make big shots, and we do that."

Folsom (29-4) will need all of that at an extra level if it expects to survive the biggest hurdle in the storied history of the program, one that includes a 7-0 lifetime showing in Sac-Joaquin Section championship play and a 2-0 showing in NorCal title games. 

Looming is O'Dowd, the state's top-ranked team according to Cal-Hi Sports, anchored inside by Rabb, the skilled and long wunderkind who is unlike any player the Bulldogs have ever seen. As delighted as coach Mike Wall was with this effort, he's already shifted to O'Dowd mode. Sleep is a rumor from here on out. The teams meet in an Open semifinal at Laney College on Tuesday, the winner earning a title date at Sleep Train Arena, where Folsom is 5-1 the past two playoff seasons.

"I've already moved on from this game, right after the hand-shake line," coach Wall said. "We'll watch a lot of film on O'Dowd and get ready."

Coach Wall said he's a good kind of nervous now because of the affection he has his team, which includes his son, Jared.

"This is why I coach," coach Wall said. "Special kids. To coach some of these kids since they were four years old, including my son...it adds to the experience. I'm not ready for the ride to end."

El Cerrito's physicality and quickness bugs a lot of teams, even just from the look test in taking the floor for warm ups. Folsom wasn't bugged in the least. 

"Our guys would not back down," coach Wall said. "That attitude won us the game. Looking at that team, I wouldn't blame our guys for being a little hesitant. But that wasn't us at all."

Folsom allowed 22 points in the first half and then a gaudy 28 in the third quarter as El Cerrito (29-4) refused to quit. A Ford runner gave the Bulldogs a 73-68 lead with 1:20 to go, and Jared Wall's streaking bucket on a far baseline entry pass pushed the lead to 78-72 with 21.1 seconds to go.

Tyrell Alcorn accounted for the final score when the El Cerrito guard hit a corner three with 2.6 to go. Alcorn had 14 points. He was chased down after the game by Ford, who embraced him and complimented his summer-circuit teammate for a good season and game. That gesture speaks of Ford's sportsmanship.

"I know he's hurting," Ford said. "It's hard to lose that last game."

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments