Joe Davidson

Big arena, big moment for Sac High and Elk Grove

Sacramento High School coach Michele Massari urges her team to get back on defense in the third quarter of a Sac-Joaquin section semifinal game against Antelope in Stockton on March 1, 2016.
Sacramento High School coach Michele Massari urges her team to get back on defense in the third quarter of a Sac-Joaquin section semifinal game against Antelope in Stockton on March 1, 2016. jvillegas@sacbee.com

They would play this game on a blacktop in Oak Park or at the regional park in Elk Grove.

But no need.

The Sacramento High School girls basketball team will gladly rise and shine Saturday, hustle out to Sleep Train Arena and play in the big house.

The Dragons will face upstart Elk Grove in the CIF Northern California Division II championship game at 10 a.m., when many teenagers are still in deep slumber.

While outdated and inadequate by NBA standards, the home of the Kings since 1988 is a sight to behold for most teenage basketball players who will never reach the next level. The ball sounds different bouncing on the raised hardwood floor. The depth perception can throw off even the most lethal prep sharpshooters. Championship-caliber seasons come to a grinding halt at Sleep Train, where shooting percentages can plummet and free throws don’t feel so free because of the depth behind the glass backboard.

Yet, high school teams can’t wait to get there. And the team that best acclimates to the surroundings benefits the most.

“We’d play anyone, anywhere, anytime for this game,” Dragons coach Michele Massari said with a laugh. “But we love Sleep Train. It’s hard to get used to. Nothing can prepare you for it. You try not to be in shock of the size of the building, and since we’re playing at 10 a.m., it may feel even more empty and open. But we’re ready.”

Troubadour time – The beauty of the NorCal Open Division is two-fold. The elite programs – those with sustained success – are placed into the Open, allowing others to have a fighting chance.

The McClatchy girls seized their opportunity last season, overcoming a blowout loss to St. Mary’s of Stockton in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs to come back and win the NorCal Regionals and CIF State D-I championship at Cal.

St. Francis finds itself in a similar position this postseason.

After losing to St. Mary’s in the section final, the Troubadors advanced to the NorCal Division I championship game against Castro Valley at 2 p.m. Led by Lauren Craig, Janae Fairbrook, Tia Hay and Kyra Huffman, St. Francis is looking to win its first large-school banner.

Pinewood uprising – The biggest upset of the NorCal playoffs was delivered in Stockton on Tuesday.

Pinewood of Los Altos Hills stunned St. Mary’s, ranked No. 1 nationally, 72-69 in an Open girls semifinal, snapping the defending state champions’ winning streak at 57 games.

Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler has won six small-school championships with a free-flowing, three-point attack. He’s been a professional basketball shooting coach for decades with a client list that includes Jeremy Lin. Pinewood toppled the Rams by breaking the press and dropping in a flurry of three-pointers. It will take on Miramonte of Orinda for the Open title. Leading Miramonte is McDonald’s All-American Sabrina Ionescu, a guard familiar with triple doubles.

CIF finals future – Sleep Train Arena has hosted prep postseason basketball, particularly the state finals, for nearly 25 years. But with the opening of Golden 1 Center downtown this fall, it’s unknown where the section, NorCal and state finals will land. Cal hosted the state finals last season because of a scheduling conflict at Sleep Train. Cal, however, surprisingly did not bid to host again.

The Kings’ front office wants to continue hosting the prep championships, and the CIF wants to return. An announcement will come next week.

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