Joe Davidson

Section finals intrigue: Historic meeting of talents, upset watch, power teams and more

Folsom's Martis Johnson (13) is called for blocking as Sheldon guard Dale Currie (0) passes the ball off in the fourth quarter of a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal on Wednesday in Elk Grove.
Folsom's Martis Johnson (13) is called for blocking as Sheldon guard Dale Currie (0) passes the ball off in the fourth quarter of a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal on Wednesday in Elk Grove. jvillegas@sacbee.com

The championships are here, and while it may rain and howl outside, the action within Spanos Center at Pacific figures to be heated.

The Sac-Joaquin Section will hand out blue banners to 12 teams, spanning Divisions I through VI in girls and boys. Pacific hosted the championships last season, and the intimate feel was ideal to hold in the noise of student rooting sections, bands and fans.

Here's a closer peek of what to expect:

Heavies collide

The finale last season featured the Woodcreek boys edging Sheldon in the closing seconds of the Division I final. And here comes Sheldon again. The top-seeded Huskies are riding a 19-game winning streak and seeking their fifth title this decade.

Sheldon is making its seventh trip to the finals in nine years under coach Joey Rollings, whose teams are fundamentally sound, active and fun to watch. Sheldon faces No. 2 seed Modesto Christian at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The Crusaders have won 14 in a row and seek their 19th banner spanning divisions. Coach Brice Fantazia calls his group, "the most versatile in Northern California. Teams have trouble figuring out how they want to play us. Our guards can rebound, and guards can guard bigs.”

Sounds just like Sheldon, which is also guard-heavy with Dale Currie, Dom Johnson, Justin Nguyen and Kaito Williams and solidified by leaping forward Ronald Agebsar and defensive-minded 6-foot-10 center Chris Wriedt.

Girl power

While the guys tend to draw the larger crowds at Pacific, the girls have more scholarship offers. This region has long been more of a basketball recruiting hotbed for girls than it's been for boys.

UCLA has two commits in the finals: Shayley Harris, a 6-6 center for D-I Folsom and 5-8 shooting guard Kiara Jefferson of defending D-IV section, Northern California and state champion West Campus.

Saturday night's 8 p.m. girls D-I championship will be the first section final to feature two McDonald's All-Americans. Five-time defending champion St. Mary's of Stockton is led by Baylor-bound Aquira Decosta, who will go against Folsom's Cal-bound McKenzie Forbes. They are friends and AAU teammates.

Upset city

Two storied boys programs are turning the playoffs into an upset party.

No. 5 Grant is coming off of a 65-56 win over top-seeded Antelope in D-II, and the Pacers will take on No. 2 St. Mary's for the title on Friday at 8 p.m. The Pacers are coached by the classy if not frantic Deonard Wilson. His top player is rising recruit Steven Richardson, a 6-5 guard-forward. Freshman guard Corey Yerger has played beyond his years. The Pacers seek their first title since 1999.

Placer as the sixth seed will play West Campus in D-IV on Friday at 4 p.m. How giddy are the Hillmen? Mark Lee, in his 24th year coaching Placer, did something of a slow-motion handstand backflip in a giddy lockerroom after beating Calaveras 66-56 in a semifinal behind another all-around game by 6-2 senior guard Kai Huntsberry. The Hillmen seek their first title since 1988.

West Campus includes 6-9 senior center Nate Karren, who averages 16.4 points and 9.5 rebounds.

Kids game

One of the youngest teams is bearing down on its first section title.

The Antelope girls are top seeded in D-II, led by 5-9 freshman guard Jzaniya Harriel, who leads the team in scoring at 14.0 a game. The leading rebounder is 6-1 junior forward Arianna Spann at 8.9. The Titans play second-seeded Bear Creek of Stockton on Friday at 6 p.m.

The only section champion on the Titans bench is coach Sean Chambers. The highflier led Highlands to a 33-1 record and a D-I title in 1983 (prep teammate Mike Bradley is a longtime assistant with the Sheldon boys). The Titans were so pleased with their 55-47 semifinal win over Del Oro that players covered Chambers with Silly String.

Double dip

Colfax and Argonaut might empty their communities on Saturday in support of their girls and boys teams.

The Colfax girls are the top seed in D-V and face No. 2 Argonaut at 10 a.m. on Saturday, followed by No. 2 Colfax taking on No. 1 Argonaut in boys action at noon.

It's family fun at Colfax, too, as Terry O'Keefe is having the time of his life coaching his son, senior Garren O'Keefe, one of the section's elite multi-sport stars.

The Colfax girls are led by 5-10 sophomore guard Grace Bliss, who averages 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. And these programs represent public schools everywhere. Since the inception of D-V play in 1988, this is the first time public schools will meet in the final.

Falcons fly

Christian Brothers is aiming for a D-III girls repeat and plays upstart River Valley at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Under Shandyn Foster, a former Christian Brothers player in her first season as coach, the top-seeded Falcons are led by 5-8 junior guard Brianna Juniel (17.7 points, 8.0 rebounds) and 6-foot sophomore guard Bria Shine (11.9, 10.2). River Valley, in its first title game, is paced by 5-7 senior guard LeAundra Walker-Brown (12.6 points) and 5-11 senior center Sindi Wise-Wright (11.9. 7.9).

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