SACRAMENTO, CA - Proving just how tough the teams in the CIF Southern Section Open Division were this season, a team from the CIFSS that did not win a section playoff game won a state championship after Rosary Academy-Fullerton turned in a dominating performance in a Friday night 75-58 CIF Division I state championship victory over Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
It had never happened before, a team winning a state championship without winning a section playoff game, but with competitive equity now determining placement for regional seedings by division, Rosary (27-8) turns the trick in the D1 state title game after the Royals didn’t win any of its games in a new CIFSS Open Division pool play format games against Etiwanda, Windward-Los Angeles and Mater Dei-Santa Ana.
With the Royals the No. 7 team in the pecking order in the Southern Section for its Open Division, and the CIF state taking six teams for the Southern Regional Open Division, the Orange County girls were sent to Division I for the Southern Regionals, but surprisingly as only as No. 2 seed behind CIF San Diego Section Open Division champion Cathedral Catholic-San Diego.
Rosary blasted Narbonne-Harbor City, barely edged Long Beach Poly 40-38 in overtime after splitting with them earlier in the season, then trounced cross-town rival Troy before handling La Jolla Country Day, 62-53, in the SoCal D1 championship. Troy was the other CIFSS Open Division team that was in the D1 SoCal bracket.
Against O’Dowd, the Royals looked like they were holding a Royal Flush. They trailed only once at 2-0 and led by as many as 23 with under two minutes to play before O’Dowd got some garbage time points.
“It feels surreal to be in this position again,” said Rosary head coach Richard Yoon, who guided the Royals to the 2017 Division III state championship meaning the 26-year veteran Rosary coach has now led the team to two state titles in the past three years.
“With the schedule we had, and playing some of the nation’s top teams (Sierra Canyon-Chatsworth and Windward), every game for us was a learning experience,” continued Yoon. “Playing against that type of competition helped us gain the confidence to win a state championship.”
The girl on the floor with the most confidence among a group of Royals’ girls who outplayed O’Dowd in every statistical aspect of the game was junior Asia Avinger. One of three transfers on the Royals, the All State First Team Sophomore at Los Alamitos last season finished with a game-high 24 points and six rebounds with three assists after coming into the game averaging 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. With Rosary only leading 6-4 early, the 5-foot-6 combo guard seemed to take over and proceeded to score nine of the team’s next 16 points to give Rosary a 22-14 lead it stretched to 41-28 at the half.
“My mentality is to put fear in your opponents,” Avinger said. “If I’m working hard than my teammates follow.”
“It was kind of hard working into a new team this season and trying to lead,” continued Avinger.” “But with this team I get more help so I can work on my game and weaknesses.”
Following the lead of Avinger was something Rosary did very well on Friday night.
“We shot the ball well (27 of 56 from the field) and we got a big surge from Asia in the first quarter and the girls took it from there,” Yoon remarked.
Savannah Felix, a 6-foot senior post who transferred from Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, had 16 points and six rebounds. Leading scorer Katherine “Kate” Goostrey, a junior guard who like Avinger was an All State First Team Sophomore selection last season, and came into the game as the Royals leading scorer at 12.4 points per game on a fairly balanced team, had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists, but early on her shots weren’t falling. In fact, until she hit a three-pointer late in the third quarter that gave Rosary a 54-36 lead, the dominance of Rosary was made apparent by the fact Goostrey only had two points at that stage of the game.
Goostrey had played at Golden 1 Center as a freshman on the 2017 D3 state champions so her experience helped.
“I told the team this is like any other stage. Just go out there and play,” Goostrey remarked. “As for me, when my shots weren’t falling, I was content to hit my teammates for assists. Hitting them for an assist feels better than making a basket.”
The third Rosary transfer, junior guard Nicole Rodriguez, who came over from Norco this season, added nine points and five rebounds. Yoon also got an excellent game from Kaylee Byon. The freshman guard had seven points, plus five rebounds and nine assists for a Royals team that had 19 assists to 10 for O’Dowd.
Even with Rosary hot early on, O’Dowd (24-10) still had its chances, however after closing to 27-24 in the mid second quarter the Dragons gave up a 14-4 run to create the 13-point halftime deficit.
Freshman Amaya Bonner (team-high 15 points and five rebounds) and sophomore sensation Kennedy Johnson (13 points and seven rebounds) played well and were a combined 13 of 24 from the field, but the rest of the O’Dowd girls were only 12 of 32 from the field combined, and the Dragons were only two of 13 on three pointers.
“This is only the 11th game these girls have played together with all our injuries, but I’m not making excuses. We struggled and tonight Rosary was the better team,” said O’Dowd head coach Malik McCord, who has won three state championships, twice in Division III in 2011 and 2015, and in the first Open Division game in 2013 when they trounced Windward and McCord was named State Coach of the Year.
“We didn’t want to let Asia get into her rhythm tonight but that exactly what happened,” continued McCord. “I’m not upset just disappointed we didn’t play or best, but with the adversity they overcame I’m very proud of this team. Its more than basketball, it’s about life’s lessons and this is a great group of young women that will be leaders in life.”