This school is still so new after seven years that the trees on campus are still taking hold. What doesn’t get old is how it treats every big event as just that.
Take Tuesday night at Pacific, a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II girls basketball semifinal. Antelope High School embraced the moment as something grand, and it was.
The top-seeded Titans rallied to beat powerhouse Sacramento 68-60 and celebrated accordingly in its quest to make history. Antelope reached its first championship game, to be played Saturday at another fun venue – Sleep Train Arena.
The Titans will play second-seeded Vanden, which beat Elk Grove 84-64 behind 24 points and 14 rebounds from Julia Blackshell-Fair.
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Antelope brought to Spanos Center scores of students, decked out in the school’s color, red. It also brought the bad – loud and proud. The principal, John Becker, didn’t just act the part of involved educator. He dressed the part. He had checkered red and white pants, just hideous enough that he likely would be escorted off the nearest golf course.
“Hey,” Becker said, pointing to his shins, “check out the red socks, too!”
And check out these Titans, a skilled, fast, determined squad.
Antelope (29-1) learned a lot about itself in a defining moment. With 5:38 to play in the third quarter, star guard Nadia Johnson fouled out with her out-of-sorts team trailing 33-27.
The Titans didn’t flinch, didn’t panic, didn’t even call timeout. They got inspired, found a new gear and won the biggest game in the program’s history. The players rushed onto the floor to celebrate, then applauded the students and band.
“We didn’t get scared because we knew we’d be OK without Nadia,” said Sean Chambers, the Antelope program’s founding coach. “Plus we had her.”
“Her” would be Angelica Baylon. The poised 5-foot-6 senior guard willed her teammates to keep their poise, keep the tempo. And she did her part by weaving through pressure defenses, scoring on runners or zipping passes inside to freshman post Arianna Spann, who scored 28 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. Baylon played all 32 minutes and had 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Nia Johnson, Nadia’s sister, had 16 points.
Sacramento (21-9) was seeking its ninth section final appearance since 2007 and third championship since 2013. Sasha Brown’s 21 points and 18 rebounds led the Dragons (21-9). Richelle Turney added 10 points, but star guard Aliceah Hernandez scored just three points.
“We didn’t want to lose Nia, but we knew we could still compete and win without her,” Baylon said. “We’re having fun. The band was great. They were slow arriving, but that’s because of the bad traffic. We could feel them here.”
You could hear the band, too. It was a festive, fun group that rocked the joint. Antelope has a culture of achievement on campus, spanning a number of sports and clubs. It starts with Becker, a prep star a generation ago at Valley High School. He insisted his outfit was for games only and that he’s normally a shirt-and-tie man at work.
Chambers said the support and the vibe on campus reminds him fondly of his high school days. Chambers was the driving force behind one of the region’s greatest boys basketball teams, the 33-1 Highlands Scots of 1983 that stormed to the section Division I championship under famed coach Carl Montross.
“It’s the same,” Chambers said with a smile. “The administrative support, the students, the band, the community. Everyone cares. Our boys team was disappointed that they couldn’t get down here to watch us but coach (Rob Richards) texted me to say, ‘Go get ’em.’ ”
Chambers said he was delighted for his team, especially seniors such as Baylon, who helped the program grow from new kid on the block to blockbuster.
“Angelica is the ultimate high school basketball player,” Chambers said. “Ultimate leader, player, teammate. She gets to practice early to get things started. Makes my job as a coach so much easier. I just ran into a Cal coach and was told, ‘We’ll be talking.’ ”
The talk on campus the rest of the week? Titans. Titans players, Titans students, Titans band.
St. Francis 88, Oak Ridge 61 – Tia Hay had 23 points, eight assists and seven steals, and Lauren Craig had 18 points and 11 rebounds as the Troubadours (26-4) beat the Trojans (27-2) in the semifinals.
“We played with a selfless attitude and the proof is in the pudding,” St. Francis coach Vic Pitton said.
The Troubadours face the winner between St. Mary’s-Stockton and Folsom on Saturday at Sleep Train.
Hailey McCoy scored 23 points, and Kassidy DeLapp had 16 points and 13 rebounds for Oak Ridge, which had a 25-game winning streak snapped.
All section semifinalists advance to the CIF Northern California Regional playoffs, which will start next week.
St. Francis will in the finals play national No. 1 St. Mary's of Stockton, which rallied from 20-15 down to beat Folsom 83-53.
Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD