By Gary Montgomery
Ontario – The Citizens Business Bank Arena clock hit zero and the J.W. North bench rushed toward center court to begin traditional winner’s dog-pile. The Huskies had just beaten a tough Santa Ana Foothill team 57-49 to claim the CIF Division II Southern California Regional Championship for the first time in the programs history.
North’s rags to riches story has been well chronicled since the start of the playoffs. Coming off a 4-21 season just one year ago and getting to this lofty position is miraculous indeed. But, the real story lies in the way they did it.
“Our strategy was to give them 42 minutes pressure rather than 32 minutes and I knew that would give us a better chance to win the game,” said North coach Leonard DeCoud. North’s plan worked to near perfection. The Huskies trapped the ball at every opportunity forcing the Knights into an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers for the game and a 9-point lead for North (26-17) late in the first half.
However, the Huskies lead dwindled to 26-24 at the half and the two teams played the third quarter dead even as the Knights started to adjust to North’s relentless pressure. Foothill took the lead early in the fourth for the first time and suddenly the momentum started to shift away from the Huskies.
With fouls starting to mount and North holding a slim lead, the game took a turn for the worst. The Knights had started attacking the basket on every possession to capitalize on North’s foul troubles. With 4:24 left in the game, Priscilla Brooks (17-points, 10 rebounds) fouled out of the game.
“It felt a lot like Anaheim again all over, but I knew we were playing a little bit better than we were down there so I felt like my team could pull it off and win the game,” said Brooks. Priscilla was referring to the CIF finals game against Lynwood. Brooks fouled out of the game at nearly the exact same time and the Huskies were roiled by her loss and went on to lose that game to Lynwood.
This time the team’s reaction was completely different. In a near seamless transition, Brittany Crain moved over and manned the post position. “Once she fouled out, I moved into the position. I just had to relax and concentrate on the plays and what I had to do,” said Crain.
Unlike the CIF Title game, North picked up the slack for their leading scorer and finished the deal. Although there were tense moments down the stretch as Foothill’s Dayanara Armenta hit a 3-pointer with 1:57 left to pull the Knights to 51-49. But, that’s when Brittany Crain tapped a ball loose from a Foothill player that lead to a Kamille Diaz layup to make the score 53-49 and the Knights (28-6) would not score again.
Saturday’s victory gave the Lady Huskies the program’s first Regional title and a ticket to the state championship where North will square off against San Jose Archbishop Mitty in Sacramento’s Power Pavilion (Formerly Arco Arena) at 6 pm on Saturday.
Archbishop Mitty stunned perennial NorCal power house and three-time state champion St. Mary’s of Stockton 53-51 on Saturday. The Monarchs (23-5) won the Division II state title in 2008 beating Mira Costa-Manhattan Beach.
Making their first ever appearance in the State finals against the experienced Monarchs will certainly be the biggest challenge North has faced this year. But, since they have found a way to conquer all of their other challenges it’s a good bet that they can do it again. And, if they can’t get it done, their effort will certain make Southern California proud.
G. Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org