By Gary Montgomery, Staff Writer –
The Inland Empire was well represented at the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section Regional Basketball Championship playoff semi-finals on Saturday.
The crowd of 8,169 at the Galen Center on USC’s Campus was treated to a full day of exciting high school hoops and a plethora of future college stars. Every game was competitive and a few provided endings worthy of March Madness lore.
Four Inland area schools made it to the Southern Section Final vying for a chance to represent the Southern Section next week in Sacramento and hopefully win a coveted California State Championship.
Rialto High Girls, Summit High School Boys, Canyon Springs Girls and Corona Centennial Boys all battled their way to Saturday’s Southern Section Finals.
First up, the Division II Rialto High Girls (32-3), San Andreas League and CIF-SS Champions took on Channel League Champion Ventura Buena (26-7). After running out to an 18 -12 lead over Buena, the Knights went cold and led at the half by only 3 points at 18-15. The second half continued much the same way until late in the fourth quarter when Rialto had seemingly taken control of the game. The Knights had a 5- point lead with 4:38 left to play when fouling fever struck the Knights sending Buena’s best player, Keani Albanez to the free throw line on three consecutive possessions and flipping the lead to 40-42 Buena. With only 15 seconds remaining in the game and Buena only one stop away from victory, Rialto’s Janaè Sharp slashed between Buena defenders and made a driving layup to tie the score at 42-42.
Buena got the inbound pass to a wide open Albanez streaking toward the basket for an open lay-up when a collision with Rialto’s Summer Webb resulted in a controversial offensive foul call and giving the ball back to Rialto with .02 seconds left. After a time out, Britanni Walker launched a pass up court as if she were throwing it to the basket, when suddenly, out of nowhere, streaking in from the sidelines, Janaè Sharp ran away from her defender, angled toward the ball, caught it on the bounce and pulled up for an 8’ foot runner that went straight thought the net for a 42-40 win and a trip Sacramento on Friday. “We tried to run a decoy for Janaè because we knew they would try to box her in but we were fortunate and surprised that we got just what we wanted,” said Rialto Head Coach Michael Anderson. The Knights will play St Mary’s Stockton Friday Night at Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena) for the Division II State Title.
Next up were the Summit Skyhawks 27-7 against San Diego Lincoln (31-1) for the Boys Division II Title. The high flying Skyhawks making their first ever appearance at the section finals showed the typical nervousness of appearing forthe first time. Lincoln led the Skyhawks 22-12 at the end of the first and 37-28 at the half. Things weren’t getting any better for Summit still down 56-48 at the end of the third. However, the Skyhawks had an unexpected surprise for the Hornets in the fourth. Led by their incredibly athletic front line the Skyhawks shut down San Diego’s offense and won the game 74-69 earning a trip to the State Finals.
Summit will play Arch Bishop Mitty Friday evening at Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena) for the Division II State Championship.
With the IE on a 2-2 roll it was the Canyon Springs Girls turn. The Lady Cougars (30-3) led by their senior star Tear’a Laudermill and sporting the best season in school history were making their second appearance in the Regional finals taking on perennial powerhouse Santa Ana Mater Dei. The Cougars stayed close early trailing 19-12 at the end of the first quarter but managing to claw their way to a mere 1-point deficit at half-time down 25-24. But the second half belonged to the bigger stronger Mater Dei team led by Uconn bound Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’ 23 points quickly made the adjustments and were simply too strong for the Cougars. The Monarchs outscored Canyon Springs 34- 20 in the second half and won the game 59-44 in their 7th appearance in the Regional finals. Mater Dei will play Berkeley on Saturday evening at Power Balance Pavillion (formerly Arco Arena).
Last up and task with getting the IE back on a winning track was the Corona Centennial Huskies (30-4) against perennial boy’s powerhouse Mater Dei (30-3). Led by its incredibly talented scoring duo of point guard Michael Caffey and guard/forward Dominic Dunning, the Huskies used a swarming defense to hold the Monarchs down for the first quarted scratching out a 3-point lead after the first quarter and a 34- 27 lead at the half. The Huskies played an inspiring first half but Mater Dei outscored Corona 20-8 in the third quarter and went on to win the game 76-64 and move on to the State Championship game on Saturday evening in Sacramento. Powerful Mater Dei simply has too much of everything and most public schools like the Huskies don’t have the depth to last against the Monarchs. With an18 player roster and at least 10 qualified starters, they are simply wearing down most teams.
The Huskies have nothing to be down about. They represented their school and community with dignity and were an awful lot of fun to watch. And frankly, I am sure that this is not the last time we will see Coach Josh Giles and his team in the finals.
Gmontgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org