The finish. pic.twitter.com/6fuF2AXZrG
— Darren Sabedra (@DarrenSabedra) March 26, 2017
SACRAMENTO — So this is how it ended for Archbishop Mitty, on the state’s premier girls basketball stage, fans in a sparkling new NBA arena roaring and players and coaches jumping into each other’s arms at midcourt.
Mitty thought this would be its year to celebrate.
Instead, a determined group from the Central Valley — one that had stuck together since elementary school, learning from tough losses along the way — led Clovis West to the state’s Open Division championship Saturday night, stunning an all-time great Mitty team 44-40 at Golden 1 Center.
Mitty, which came in averaging 72 points per game, scored just 13 after halftime and did not make a field goal in the final 5:42 as Clovis West did just enough on offense to hoist the prized California Interscholastic Federation trophy.
“If you told me that we’d hold them to 44 points, I would have thought, ‘Wow, we’re going to get a win,’” Mitty coach Sue Phillips said. “But for whatever reason, there was a lid. I thought we had some good looks, and they just didn’t fall. Sometimes it’s in the cards or not.”
Even with little offense, Mitty (28-3) appeared to be in decent shape in the final quarter, especially after Haley Jones’ short jumper in transition stretched the Monarchs’ lead to 37-30 lead with 5:42 to go.
But Clovis West (34-2) responded with a long pass over the defense on an inbounds play, the home-run toss lighting the flame that sparked the Golden Eagles to victory.
Sarah Bates caught the long throw, scored and drew a foul. The free throw made it 37-33 with 5:36 left.
Moments later, Bates buried a 3-pointer from the top to cut Mitty’s advantage to 37-36, pumping her fist in celebration.
When Bates added another 3-pointer, Clovis West had taken the lead, 39-37.
Bates scored again on a layup to make it 41-37, and Danae Marquez’s two free throws with 5.4 seconds left clinched the championship.
“I am still trying to process,” Clovis West coach Craig Campbell said. “Did we just do that?”
Phillips had said a week earlier that the game would be a heavyweight bout, and it clearly turned out that way.
But unlike the first matchup this season between the teams, won by Mitty in overtime 76-75 at a national showcase in Hawaii three months ago, the game Saturday was dominated by defense.
High school teams, even really good ones, often struggle to shoot well in NBA arenas, but Madeline Holland refused to blame the venue for her team’s woes.
“It wasn’t the stadium,” said Holland, who led Mitty with 11 points “It was the defense. Clovis West is a great team, and they played great defense.”
Phillips agreed, noting that she thought her team’s half-court offense would be an asset Saturday.
“But you really do have to credit Clovis West,” Phillips said. “They did a great job of communicating and switching and contesting a majority of our shots. But I am so proud of these girls. We just came up short.”
Mitty scored the final seven points of the first half to take a 27-24 lead into the locker room. The teams combined for just 14 points in the third quarter as Mitty widened its lead to 35-30.
But Clovis West kept hanging around until it made its championship-closing run.
“Somebody back in the Valley was crazy enough to call us one dimensional at one point,” Campbell said. “It’s amazing to me. This team has won playing man, has won pressing for four quarters. This team has won hitting 18 3s, and it’s won playing ugly.
“These kids are just resilient. We challenged them at halftime. We coach them hard, and they play hard. I told them three games ago there is nothing they can do to make me more proud of them. Winning a state championship doesn’t make me more proud. It’s just a special reward for this group of girls that have sacrificed so much.”
Mitty entered the game ranked No. 1 in MaxPreps’ computer rankings.
Clovis West was No. 2.
The atmosphere was charged from the start, with the crowd easily the largest of the weekend to that point.
“It certainly was special to be a part of the game,” Phillips said. “It’s hard to not be disappointed with the outcome. But you have to take a step back and recognize that the hype for the game was something great for women’s basketball and for the state of California, two heavy-hitters playing each other.
“But I think Craig would agree that both of us would have liked to play a better brand of basketball offensively. But kudos to both teams for locking down defensively.”
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