SACRAMENTO, CA – It’s been 14 years since a team from the CIF Oakland Section/Oakland Athletic League has won a CIF girls state championship but now after Oakland posted an impressive 51-35 victory over McFarland in the Division III title game the drought is over.
Oakland Section and Northern Regional Division III champion Oakland (30-5) now joins two-time Division I champion Oakland Tech (2004-2005) and 1988 Division I champion Fremont as one of only three Oakland public schools to win CIF state titles, and they did it in their first-ever state title-game appearance.
“For the city of Oakland it was a 14-year wait but the stars lined up for this great group of girls. For me I had two state championships with an asterisk. Now, I have one of my own,” said Oakland Coach Orlando Gray, an assistant on the Oakland Tech two championship teams that featured his daughter, Alexis Gray-Lawson, who went on to star at Cal and the WNBA and who is now coaching Como Park in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Alexis called me last night and said ‘dad go get it,’ and I told her we would if the girls showed up.”
The Wildcats girls showed up and get it they did but it took a little while after Oakland trailed 8-6 late in the first quarter before they posted a 9-8 lead to begin the second quarter and never trailed again.
Senior point guard Morgan Dunbar led Oakland with 20 points (four rebounds) and six steals for a Wildcats team that had a 19-3 advantage in steals and forced 28 turnovers and only committed nine. Fellow senior Khirah McCoy added 18 points with three rebounds and three steals.
Despite the large margin of victory it was 22-22 late in the second quarter before the Wildcats went on a 13-0 run that gave them some breathing room. From there Dunbar took over and scored 10 of the team’s last 16 points, including 10-straight from the late third quarter until 2:37 was left in the game.
“Sometime the bright lights get you,” Gray remarked. “But we talked about it at halftime and they steadied and turned it on in the third quarter.”
The big difference in the game was the speed and athleticism of Oakland was just too much for the CIF Central Section Division IV champions that were moved up to Division III for the Southern Regional playoffs.
“We saw on film that we could utilize our speed and we did,” Dunbar said. “Winning for the Oakland public schools feels great. Some people think we’re not as good as the Catholic schools but we’ve had some good wins and we even beat (D1 NorCal champion) O’Dowd.”
After winning the CIF Oakland Section title in a close 45-43 win over arch rival and CIF Division IV Northern Regional champion Oakland Tech, Gray and his girls drew the No. 2 seed in the D3 NorCals. They blew past Wilcox-Santa Clara and Lick-Wilmerding-San Francisco. Then, they edged Woodside Priory-Portola Valley, 56-54 in the semifinals before getting past upstart No. 16 seed Union Mine-El Dorado 49-38 in the NorCal D3 title game to set up the showdown with McFarland.
The girls from McFarland (31-6), a rural town just north of Bakersfield, got 13 points from Neli Diaz but she was the only double-figure scorer of the five Cougars girls that scored.
In a bit of a twist the question over whether Oakland could play with the Oakland public schools teachers on strike became an issue, but through all the outside influences Gray and his Wildcats persevered.
“Even with the strike the (Oakland Section) commissioner and the Superintendant told us we could play,” Gray remarked. “It wouldn’t have been fair to the girls.”
For McFarland it was the end of a Cinderella-like story. The town pretty much shut down on Friday and school was cancelled so students could make the trek to the state capital.
“We have to give it to Oakland. We fell just short of winning a state title,” McFarland Coach Johnny Samaniego remarked. “But we couldn’t have written the script.”
With Oakland winning and Oakland Tech playing on Saturday morning for the CIF Division IV title the possibility exists that two Oakland public schools could come away with state championships this year.
“I’ll definitely be rooting for Oakland Tech,” Gray said.
Chances are he won’t be alone.
Division V Girls
With what seemed like the entire student body in the stands, and the band pounding away, it was the Caruthers girls that did the pounding on the court in an impressive 62-38 CIF Division V state title championship victory over Ramona of Riverside in the first of six games on Friday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
“Ever since I started coaching these girls in fifth-grade we’ve been talking about being here at the state championships,” Caruthers head coach Anna Almeida said. “This year we talked about it from the beginning of the season. Our first goal was Valley (CIF Central Section) and then state.”
Caruthers bolted out to a 7-0 lead, and long before halftime the deal was more than sealed when Ramona could only manage three points between the mid-point of the first quarter and the early third quarter when the lead stretched to 46-11 and completed a 34-3 Blue Raiders run.
“Every game since the Valley championship we’ve kicked out solid in the first quarter. These girls were relentless,” said Almeida, whose team was a 56-44 winner over Coalinga in the CIF Central Section Division V title game and then hosted three games in the NorCals before traveling almost 500 miles to Eureka where the No. 3 seed was a 52-44 winner over top-seeded St. Bernard’s in the Northern Regional Division V championship.
After leading by 30 points after three quarters Caruthers (32-4) pretty much emptied the bench in the final period which made the game a lot closer than it was.
Nine Blue Raiders girls scored with three in double-figures led by Jaque Magana with 13 points and seven rebounds. Felicia Ramirez added 12 points and seven rebounds and Jacklyn Kulo chipped in with 11 points and four assists.
Ramona (23-13) got a game-high 15 points from Lizbeth Garcia and nine points and 12 rebounds from Savannah Petty.
“We were the last girls team left from the Inland Empire and while we came up short the end result doesn’t define our journey,” Ramona head coach Brandon Fletcher said. “We represented Ramona, Riverside and the Inland Empire with pride.”
Caruthers wins its first ever CIF state championship and both teams were making their first ever state championship game appearance.