The effort was there.
It’s always there when a Vic Pitton-coached team takes the basketball floor with something vital to play for.
There was desire and intensity in abundance from the start on Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena for St. Francis High School, implored by its fiery and proud coach, even if the result was not the desperately wanted one.
The Troubadours gave every ounce of effort they had against a powerhouse known to thrive in championship settings, so there was no shame in the final score. Brea Olinda led big early, then held off a gallant late charge to prevail 64-51 in the CIF State Division I final.
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It’s the 10th CIF title for the Wildcats of the deeply talented and rugged Southern Section and the fifth in seven title game appearances for veteran coach Jeff Sink.
Sink held onto Pitton’s postgame handshake an extra moment, old coaches sharing thoughts and mutual admiration.
“I complimented him on a well-coached game, well-played game, and they played an excellent brand of ball and took us out of what we wanted to do,” Pitton said. “He thought we were the Cinderella team.”
Pitton took that as a compliment. While many didn’t see St. Francis (29-6) getting this far when the season started in November, Pitton did. With the addition of standout point guard Tia Hay, who moved in from Melbourne, Australia, to go with a talented front line and a bevy or shooters, Pitton could see this title run unfolding.
Hay had 16 points, and senior center Lauren Craig contributed nine points and 13 rebounds.
St. Francis was undone by 17 percent shooting in the first half and 36 for the game. Brea (29-4) has just one senior, but what a senior Reili Richardson is. The Arizona State-bound guard had 26 points and nine rebounds as she continued her torrid postseason march.
St. Francis players were content with their season, so there was no sob scene afterward. The Troubadours won their first Northern California title since 1993 in D-III.
“It’s been a tremendous season, and they played their hearts out out there,” Pitton said. “They have nothing to be ashamed of. When an athlete can give everything they can, it hurts. They represented their school extremely well.
“The effort was there, and the perspective is there. We understand winning and losing doesn’t define us. It’s how you play and compete, and that’s the good thing about high school athletics.”
Hay said she rediscovered her game, her smile and her academic passion this season.
“These are the closest friends I’ve had, much closer than anyone in Australia, and I’m thankful,” Hay said.
Craig went from a player who struggled to rebound without falling to the floor early in her career to a dominant inside presence. She bows out as one of the program’s all-time leading scorers and rebounders.
“It’s been the most memorable season,” Craig said. “All the time we put in, the way we supported each other, it’s been my favorite year.”
Sink said he was moved by his young team’s ability to beat so many good playoff teams down the stretch. Brea, he said, played beyond its years.
“If you win your last game, you’ve won a championship,” Sink said. “So let’s win our last game. If we lost this game, we were going to play a pickup game in the parking lot.”
Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD