Joe Davidson

With upsets and rematches, why CIF NorCal basketball is now must-watch theater

Sheldon guard Dale Currie is fouled by Folsom's Martis Johnson (13) during a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal Feb. 28 in Elk Grove. Sheldon won, but the teams will face each other again in the CIF NorCal Regionals.
Sheldon guard Dale Currie is fouled by Folsom's Martis Johnson (13) during a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal Feb. 28 in Elk Grove. Sheldon won, but the teams will face each other again in the CIF NorCal Regionals. jvillegas@sacbee.com

The season is going so fast now, coaches and players barely have time to catch their breath.

Games end, then the preparation for foes unknown starts before the steam of the locker room showers subsides.

When this sprint known as the CIF Northern California Regional basketball tournament started March 7, there were 192 boys and girls teams at the starting block spanning seven divisions, with programs from as far south as Fresno and as far north as Modoc County. Three rounds in, and it's pared down a ton.

For the local area, seven boys and three girls teams are left standing.

NorCal semifinals are Tuesday night for Divisions I-V and the Open. For D-VI, Tuesday is NorCal championship night. The NorCal finals for the upper divisions will be Saturday at Santa Clara's Leavey Center. All other divisions will be held at home sites. A closer peek:

Rematch City – The big boy rounds warrant a big-boy venue. Sheldon vs. Folsom has been pulled out of Sheldon and placed at Cosumnes River College, which seats close to 2,000.

Sheldon, the Open Division's 4 seed, wanted to host this game, but with a home seating of 1,245, the CIF urged the school to choose another venue as it recommends that semifinals be held at gyms that seat at least 1,800. Folsom fans went to social media demanding a venue switch, calling it "criminal" if the CIF didn't move the game, even offering its home digs or Jesuit.

Sheldon wisely picked CRC. Why not stay in the extended neighborhood?

Sheldon beat Folsom 69-65 in overtime on Feb. 28 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal to move its record to 13-11 against the Bulldogs in recent meetings, some of the thrilling variety in the postseason. With Mason Forbes scoring 13 points, collecting 14 rebounds and blocking 11 shots Friday, Folsom pulled a stirring upset of CalHi Sports state No. 1 Salesian of Richmond, which delighted both Folsom and Sheldon players.

"We just wanted a rematch with Sheldon," Folsom coach Mike Wall said. Said Sheldon guard Dom Johnson, whose late-game heroics lifted the Huskies past San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno in overtime Friday, "I think everyone wants to see this."

Double-trouble – West Campus has its girls and boys teams still in this fight, a remarkable feat for a school best known for academics.

The girls, coached by fiery John Langston and led by UCLA-bound guard Kiara Jefferson, are seeded fifth in D-III and host Sacred Heart Prep. SHP is coming off of a 48-39 win at top-seeded Enterprise of Redding in what has become a heavy theme during these competitive-equity playoffs: upsets happen.

West Campus won NorCal and state D-IV titles a year ago and was moved up a division this season.

The boys, coached by fiery Fred Wilson and led by emerging 6-foot-9 center Nate Karren, hosts Saint Mary's of Albany. This region has never had a boys and girls NorCal champion from the same school.

Pacers surge – When Grant lost to St. Mary's of Stockton 66-56 in the section D-II boys final, coach Deonard Wilson was frustrated by youthful mistakes, though he vowed better results with, "my babies. I love these guys. They can be so good. We're going to make a NorCal run."

The Pacers are still running.

After topping Acalanes of Lafayette 67-60 and Riordan of San Francisco 60-50, a Grant group with no seniors now visits top-seeded Alameda while St. Mary's hosts Campolindo in the other semifinal. Rematch, anyone?

Ranch rolls – Figuring their season was toast after falling to lower-seeded Calaveras in a section quarterfinal, Liberty Ranch is now in rare territory. The Hawks of Galt earned an at-large D-IV boys bid and are coming off an emotionally charged 85-80 win at Placer to set up a meeting at Stuart Hall in San Francisco, which is coming off an upset of top-seeded Santa Cruz.

Liberty Ranch is led by sophomore guard Jalen Patterson, who is fueled by the recent death of his great grandmother, Ira Fields. The Hawks seek their first NorCal title in any sport.

"I play for her and my teammates," Patterson said.

Falcons fly – Winning a section D-III title was one thing, but first-year Christian Brothers girls coach Shandyn Foster sensed, "We have a team that can win a lot more." The Falcons hosts Clovis of Fresno in D-III action and will continue to ride the momentum of stars Brianna Juniel and Bria Shine.

Falcons fly, Part II – There's a nice generational gap theme brewing at Colfax, where the boys team visits Gridley for D-V honors. Coach Terry O'Keefe back in the day played for his assistant coach, Ron Pucci. These days, O'Keefe coaches one of the school's all-time great athletes in his son Garren O'Keefe, a throwback multisport guy whose athletic feats are exceeded only by his perfect grades.

Trio of fun – The team known as the "Fearless 5" is united. That's the girls team at Bradshaw Christian, which held off 28-2 Union Mine on Saturday 66-58 in D-V with three players after two others fouled out.

The roster is five total due to a small campus and injuries. Only four of them scored against Union Mine, led by Anaya Mejia (38 points) and Cookie Marques (16). Bradshaw Christian plays at Notre Dame of Belmont for a shot at its first NorCal banner.

"They just find a way," coach Mike Ruble said. "That's what it's all about now."

Rematch City, Part II – In D-VI, Sacramento Adventist hopes to bring home the region's first NorCal trophy of the season. Coached by a judge – Scott Tedmon – who lives for hoops, the Capitals are proof that big things happen in small-school packages. Sacramento Adventist got the rematch it wanted against Ripon Christian, which won the section title. And check out the excitement of the old coach, who said, "NorCal finals, baby!"

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