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March 23, 2013

A first for Eagles

Pleasant Grove was the lone winner for the NorCal region while the two other northern representatives suffer heart-breaking defeats.

In what was easily the best game of Day I, the Pleasant Grove Eagles used a balanced attack to take home their first state title in the school's inaugural appearance with a 73-57 win over Santa Monica.

This one had the perfect formula with two teams featuring great guard play and referees who let them play as Pleasant Grove and Santa Monica played at a "busy" pace that lent itself to some physical play and certainly very little wasted time getting up shots as the two teams hosted up 142 shot attempts.

The lone representative of the Sac-Joaquin Section in this year's tourney, the Eagles didn't win their league or section (that honor went to Open division semi-finalist and Delta River League rival Sheldon), but this team has now become the only team from the SJS to ever win a Division I state title.

The Eagles had their way for three quarters as the Elk Grove school built a 20-point lead after three periods, 60-40.

But Santa Monica went on a 10-2 run to cut into the lead before the Eagles turned it up a notch with a sequence highlighted by one of Matthew Hayes' many acrobatic layups and an electrifying dunk by 6-foot-7 Marquese Chriss off a lob pass from Malik Thames and the partisan crowd went nuts.

To make matters worse for Santa Monica, Cal-bound Jordan Mathews, the Vikings' 6-foot-4 scoring machine, got into foul trouble and had a cramp in his back. With his minutes limited, Mathews managed just nine points and five rebounds before fouling out early in the fourth quarter. Senior forward Chris Smith tried to pick up the slack with a game-high 20 points plus eight boards, but this night belonged to Pleasant Grove.

The Eagles shot 48% (43% beyond the arc) for the night as Hayes led a balanced attack with 19 points, Thames was a solid floor general while dropping in 16, and Nordquist (13 points and nine boards) and Chriss (nine points and nine boards) had solid games in the front court.

Horizon Christian 47, St. Joseph Notre Dame 46

In a finish that will be talked about for years to come, sophomore guard Ethan Underwood took a pass, weaved thru traffic, and elevated for a 28-footer that hit nothing but net at the buzzer to give the Horizon Christian Panthers (21-11) their fourth state championship in a 47-46 thriller over St. Joseph-Notre Dame for the state Division V title.

"This is why they call it March Madness," said St. Joseph-Notre Dame coaching legend Don Lippi, who's program now stands at 4-5 all-time in the finals after suffering their second loss in a row in Sacramento.

6-foot-6 junior Temidayo Yussuf was going to be a problem inside for the smaller Panthers and he proved to be just that as he used his superior size and strength to tally 20 points and a division record 19 rebounds (10 offensively) to lead SJND (25-12), but the Pilots shot themselves in the foot converting just 4-of-11 free throws in the fourth quarter and 52% from charity stripe.

The smaller Panthers, 3-1 in state championships before this game, stayed fairly even in the rebound department despite Yussef and 6-foot-5 sophomore Lamont Banks and they managed to orchestrate a 14-5 run in the third quarter to keep it close behind leading scorers Underwood and Daren Carrington.

The 6-foot Underwood finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-4 beyond the arc, and Carrington, a 6-foot-3 wing, led the way with a double-double of 17 points and 14 rebounds.

St. Augustine-San Diego 59, Sacred Heart Cathedral 52

In a hotly-contested Division III final, junior guard Trey Kell scored 30 points and hit three free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime where St. Augustine finally prevailed over Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco 59-52 for the Saints' first state championship.

The Fightin' Irish (21-12) fell in the state title game for the second year in a row, but not before making it interesting.

Receiving 17 second-half points from senior guard Herman Pratt, after he was held scoreless in the first half, Sacred Heart stayed within striking distance of St. Augustine (29-4), but were still down by six with 1:32 to go, yet the scrappy squad from the City by the Bay got key buckets from juniors Liam O'Reily and DeOndre Otis in a madcap comeback that culminated with O'Reily's 12-foot baseline jumper for a lead that sent the 'Irish contingent into a frenzy.

However, the excitement was short-lived as St. Augustine got the ball into the hands of the silky-smooth Kell, and he was fouled on a three-point attempt by O'Reily.

Thee 6-foot-4 Kell, the best player on the floor, grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and scored on acrobatic drives, mid-range jumpers, and three-point attempts on his way to 9-of-15 from the field and 10-of-13 from the line, including the three free throws he calmly sank to send this into overtime.

As Sacred Heart coach Darrell Barbour would say after the game, "we never quit and we defended the heck out of them," but the extra period was Sacred Heart's undoing as they could muster just five points to the Saints' dozen.

UC-Davis bound Brynton Lemar chipped in 10 points and seven boards for the winners while O'Reily added 10 points and nine boards to the Sacred Heart cause and Deondre Otis, displaying shooting range and the ability to take defenders to the hole, contributed 12 points.


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