The players and coaches agree on one thing: Sleep Train Arena is a desired destination, but it has become something of a house of horrors.
Sacramento High School had its season of promise thrown for a detour on March 7 with a late three-point loss to Modesto Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship, and then the season came to a humbling, stalled-out finish Saturday just as it seemed it was finding a new gear.
Unable to get on track offensively and pounded inside and on the boards, the Dragons were reduced to a crawl, falling 54-40 to storied Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in the CIF Northern California D-II title game.
Sacramento (28-6) shot 27 percent and was outrebounded 50-27 in producing a season-low point total. The Monarchs (21-10) were stronger inside, shot 40 percent and pulled away late after it was 18-18 at the half to win their fourth NorCal title in five years and sixth overall, spanning different divisions.
“Even NBA teams struggle shooting in here sometimes and it happened to us tonight,” longtime Sacramento coach Derek Swafford said. “We couldn’t buy a bucket, and Mitty played well. We knew Mitty liked to keep the score low, to slow it down, to grind it out, and hat’s off to their coaches for doing that. It worked. We’re a young, fatigued team. We hit a wall and we did some things out of character today. Some of that was Mitty, too.”
Mitty coach Tim Kennedy, who has elevated the Monarchs into a powerhouse heavy on post play, said the plan was to keep the Dragons from setting the pace. This meant cutting off the lane and the baseline and denying easy transition baskets. That Kennedy, a noted post-player coach, has two impressive bigs to unleash added to Sacramento’s misery.
Ben Kone, a skilled, strong 6-foot-9 junior center, had game highs of 23 points and 17 rebounds for Mitty. Sebastian Much, a 6-7 sophomore still getting into shape after a hip injury sidelined him for much of the season, powered inside for 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Monarchs, who play La Mirada for the CIF State title next Saturday at Cal’s Haas Pavilion.
“Desire,” Swafford said in sizing up Mitty’s effort in general.
Desire has defined the Dragons all season as well, including 6-7 center Solomon Young, who had 11 points and six rebounds, well below his season averages. Young heaped credit on Mitty, saying, “They played really well.”
The affable Kone, celebrating his 17th birthday, said of his battle with Young, “He’s a strong, physical player and I’m a strong, physical player. It was a great matchup. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.”
Sacramento, in its fifth NorCal final since 2006 under Swafford, expects another title run next season as guard Stephen Matthews is the only senior on the roster. Returning along with Young are guards Jermaine Henderson, Sayvon Hines, Christian Terrell and Andrew Williams.
Sacramento entered the playoffs top ranked by The Bee, and it bounced back from that Modesto Christian loss with NorCal routs of San Marin and St. Mary’s of Stockton.
“We have a bright future,” Swafford said. “I want these kids to leave here with their heads held high. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We’re here, and I’m proud of them. Great kids on the floor, in the classroom and in the community.”