Joe Davidson

Titans stand tall: Antelope wins first section championship behind a familiar name

The Antelope Titans celebrate their 66-58 overtime win over the Bear Creek Bruins in the CIF Division II Girls Basketball Sac-Joaquin Section title game in the Spanos Center at the University of the Pacific, Friday, March 2, 2018.
The Antelope Titans celebrate their 66-58 overtime win over the Bear Creek Bruins in the CIF Division II Girls Basketball Sac-Joaquin Section title game in the Spanos Center at the University of the Pacific, Friday, March 2, 2018. Special to The Bee

Sean Chambers is an old-school guy from back in the day who embraces new-age thinking.

The veteran Antelope High School girls basketball coach figures the best way to inspire and reward a hungry team is to feed it – with wisdom and pizza. Lots of pizza. It's become tradition this promising season to follow a spirited and satisfying victory with a pizza party rather than a hard practice.

And guess what's on the menu for Saturday?

Down by six with less than a minute to play in regulation, the young Titans played beyond their years, forcing overtime and then beating Bear Creek of Stockton 66-58 on Friday night to win the program's first Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship. Antelope players celebrated on the Spanos Center floor at the University of the Pacific, and then plotted good eating ideas for Saturday.

"We've had three pizza parties in the last week or so," Chambers said amid laughter. "Feed the beast."

The beast is a mixture of young players and seasoned ones as Chambers has expertly layered his roster. It starts with dynamic point guard Jzaniya Harriel, a 5-foot-9 freshman who can handle the ball, whip passes, score inside and out and play defense. To be sure, she will be a national recruit by the time she is finished here.

Harriel in middle school would come into the Antelope gym and study the career scoring record board and insist she would help raise championship banners. She had 21 points and slithered her slender frame in for a remarkable 21 rebounds, matching game-high honors with bruising junior forward Arianna Spann, who also had 21 points, mostly from inside.

Harriel comes from good family genes. Her father, Mister Harriel, was a high-scoring guard at Valley in the 1990s, and her brother, also Mister Harriel, won a Division II crown at Antelope in 2012 and '13 as a versatile guard.

The younger Harriel, now a football star at Sacramento State, embraced his kid sister after Friday's game and proclaimed her the best athlete in the family, boasting, "I told you she was good! So proud of her!"

And Chambers can also appreciate the glow of winning a section championship. He was the star player for Highlands in 1983 when the Scots won the D-I banner.

"Harriel is a special talent," Chambers said. "We have a lot of impactful players who are young. This is not easy. The kids said they wanted to win it for me. I wanted to win it for them."

This is a united school, where everything extra curricular is celebrated, from the band to athletics to the spirited rooting section. It starts with the principal, John Becker, who attends big events in his trademark red and white checkered pants.

This is no fashion disaster. This is by design, and the players get a kick out of Becker's garb.

Chambers told Becker 10 years ago after getting hired that he wanted to build a championship program with local kids. He's done it.

The Titans (25-5) will earn a high seed in the CIF Northern California D-II playoffs that start Wednesday. Bear Creek will also advance.

The Bruins were led by Vanessa Cochrane, who had 16 points. Chambers praised the efforts of his entire roster. He said junior forward Kameiko Hostler is "a foundation of this program" for her selfless efforts.

He added that senior Azanna Sands is a glue player; she scored six points in 31 exhausting minutes. Jordan Goodwin, Kaiija Lesane and Angel Jordan combined for 17 points and 18 rebounds.

Spann earned the team's unofficial grit award for the season, having recovered from shoulder surgery that sidelined her all summer and fall. Spann has played big at UOP before, including going for 28 points and 22 rebounds in a section semifinal loss to Sacramento in 2016.

"I told her that this was her court," Chambers said. "It's a testament to her that she came all the way back. Proud of her and all of them."

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