Ray-John Spears and King-Jhsanni Wilhite will battle it out again on Saturday in the CCS Division III Championship.
Casey Manuel

CCS Championship Saturday: Things to know about the five title games

February 29, 2020

The Open Division title may have been decided on Friday night, but five divisions still have championship games to decide on Saturday. With the season winding down and almost all state championship games being played simultaneously, it’ll be one of the last chances for fans to see multiple games in a day. Best of all, nine of the 10 games between the boys and girls divisions will be played within seven miles of each other at Palo Alto and Sequoia, two schools no more than 25 minutes apart, even with awful luck with red lights on El Camino Real.

Division III: No. 2 St. Ignatius (10-16) vs. No. 1 Sacred Heart Cathedral (11-15), 12 p.m. at Sequoia HS

Throughout their early-season struggles, the common refrain for the St. Ignatius Wildcats was to wait until the end of the year. A young roster with just two returning starters, three sophomores and a freshman point guard, they hit some bumps in the road, barely qualifying for the postseason with a .500 nonleague record and losing the Bruce-Mahoney Game to rival Sacred Heart Cathedral, 84-77.

On Saturday, they’ll get another crack at the Fightin’ Irish in the rubber match of their season series. They erased a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit for a 58-54 win at SHC, though the Irish played that game with limited minutes from Ray-John Spears, who had scored 35 when the teams met at the Cow Palace on Jan. 3. Not only will the third time be the decisive game, it’ll also be a chance for both teams to show off their final forms. Aside from Hebert Rivas, the Irish should be at full health, and SI has matured tremendously by weathering the storm during WCAL play. Freshman point guard King-Jhsanni Wilhite matched his season high with 27 in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Monterey, and if he can lead the Wildcats to glory, he’d enter rare company among a very small group of freshmen to lead their team to a section title.

How they got there: St. Ignatius - Defeated No. 10 Westmoor 72-37, defeated No. 3 Monterey 76-60. Sacred Heart Cathedral - Defeated No. 9 Jefferson 66-60, defeated No. 5 Aptos 71-49

Recent championship appearances: St. Ignatius - 2007 (won Division III), 2014 (won Division II), 2017 (lost Division II). Sacred Heart Cathedral - 2015 (won Division III), 2016 (lost Division III), 2019 (won Open Division)

Players to watch: St. Ignatius - G Kourosh Kahn-Adle (Sr.), G GC Toledo Rivera (So.), PG King-Jhsanni Wilhite (Fr.). Sacred Heart Cathedral - G Kori McCoy (Sr.), G Darnay McPherson (Jr.), G Ray-John Spears (So.)

Division V: No. 4 Eastside (18-7) vs. No. 3 Pacific Bay Christian (27-2), 2 p.m. at Palo Alto HS

For Eastside to be back in the championship game after the departure of head coach Donovan Blythe, now coaching in China, and the graduation of Isaiah Saams-Hoy, now playing at Cal State East Bay, is nothing short of remarkable. It’s made all the more impressive by the Panthers’ road to Saturday’s contest, winning a 48-43 grinder of a game against Woodside Priory to avenge a pair of regular season losses. Pacific Bay Christian will be playing in the title game for just the second time in school history, making a prior appearance in 2013 under the old name of Alma Heights Christian. Expect Saturday afternoon to be a war in the post between Pac Bay’s Dwight Bumgarner and Eastside’s Raymond Reece. A more guard-heavy game should favor the Eagles, who can turn to Diego Sotto, but if the Panthers get strong play from David Haines, Million Jackson or Van White, Reece’s workload will be significantly lighter.

How they got there: Eastside - Defeated No. 12 More 71-38, defeated No. 1 Woodside Priory 48-43. Pacific Bay Christian - Defeated No. 6 Pinewood 55-46, defeated No. 2 Stevenson 43-32.

Recent championship appearances: Eastside - 2016 (lost Division V), 2019 (won Division V). Pacific Bay Christian - 2013 (lost Division V).

Players to watch: Eastside - G David Haines (Sr.), C Raymond Reece (Jr.), G Van White (Jr.). Pacific Bay Christian - C Dwight Bumgarner (Sr.), F Khalil Smith (Sr.), G Diego Sotto (Sr.).

Division II: No. 7 Christopher (18-9) vs. No. 1 Hillsdale (19-7), 4 p.m. at Sequoia HS

Once thought to have been overseeded, Christopher has made an improbable march to a championship game in a bracket that’s been filled with upsets. The only team that hasn’t fallen victim is Hillsdale, currently reaping the rewards of the perfect storm. Not only did three WCAL powers get pulled up to the Open Division, both Los Altos and defending champion Mountain View fell on the Division I side of the enrollment cutoff this year and other traditional Division II powers, such as Leland, had down years. Saturday will be a tremendous opportunity for Fighting Knights point guard Junior Cotton to bring home some hardware as a memento for his four years of varsity basketball. He scored 23 in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Willow Glen and sophomore Calvin Mader-Clark scored 30.

Sophomores will be a common theme in Saturday’s battle, as two of the Cougars’ top four scorers, Ricky Becker (8.1 ppg) and Tobenna Ezeokeke (8.7), are members of the class of 2022. The other two, Duncan Ellis (8.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Owen McCarry (8.5 ppg) are both juniors. On a team with tons of height, 6-foot-9 center Ethan Fleener’s presence will be especially important in stopping Cotton, who drives to the basket with reckless abandon and utilizes his long arms to finish around defenders.

How they got there: Christopher - Defeated No. 10 Oak Grove 42-29, defeated No. 2 Santa Clara 43-37, defeated Gunn 52-45. Hillsdale - Defeated No. 9 Wilcox 53-51, defeated No. 4 Willow Glen 77-67.

Recent championship appearances: Christopher - None. Hillsdale - 1995 (won Division III), 1997 (won Division III).

Players to watch: Christopher - F Duncan Ellis (Jr.), G Tobenna Ezeokeke (So.), G Owen McCarry (Jr.). Hillsdale - PG Junior Cotton (Sr.), G Oliver Crank (Jr.), F Calvin Mader-Clark (So.).

Division IV: No. 4 Santa Cruz (17-12) vs. No. 2 Carmel (22-4), 7 p.m. at Monterey Peninsula College

It’ll be the Cardinals and Padres in the Division IV title game for the second straight year, but unlike the last one, it’ll be played in their neck of the woods. Last year’s 50-35 Carmel win was played in Santa Clara, but Saturday night’s will be between the two schools, albeit closer to the home of the second-seeded Padres. It should be a battle of a stingy defense against a dynamic offense, as Santa Cruz allowed just 38 points on Wednesday to a Palma team that had swept Carmel. The Padres’ best weapon is their transition offense, with Kai Lee constantly stretching the floor.

How they got there: Santa Cruz - Defeated No. 5 King’s Academy 55-47, defeated No. 1 Palma 45-38. Carmel - Defeated No. 7 Harbor 82-55, defeated No. 3 Half Moon Bay 56-52.

Recent championship appearances: Santa Cruz - 2015 (won Division IV), 2018 (lost Division IV), 2019 (lost Division IV). Carmel - 2016 (lost Division IV), 2019 (won Division IV).

Players to watch: Santa Cruz - G Dillon Danner (Sr.), PG Makai Norman (Sr.), G Scotty Pramuk (Jr.). Carmel - C J.T. Byrne (Jr.), F Max Carr (Sr.), G Kai Lee (Sr.).

Division I: No. 6 Sequoia (17-10) @ No. 1 Palo Alto (22-4), 8 p.m.

Two of the oldest schools in the Bay Area, the basketball programs at Palo Alto and Sequoia have gone on wildly different trajectories over their more than century-long histories. The Vikings have regularly been among the best teams in the Bay Area, winning a state championship with a Jeremy Lin-led team in 2006. More recently, they’ve won two of the last three Division I titles, taking a break in 2018 to play in the Open Division, where they became the first public school to win reach the semifinals. In 2017 and 2018, they played in Northern California championship games.

Meanwhile, Sequoia has never even appeared in a section title game or won a state tournament game. The Ravens did play in the CCS Open Division in 2017 and 2018, making their first two state championship appearances afterwards, but they were bounced in the first round both times. 2018 was also the year in which Sequoia snapped a 41-year league title drought, then doubled down by winning the PAL Tournament for the third time in four years. That league playoff no longer exists, but the program has a chance to win something far bigger on Saturday night.

The teams met back on Dec. 19, an evening where Matt Marzano played the best game of his career, scoring 30 points in a 55-39 Palo Alto win. He’ll try to lead the Vikings to a second consecutive section championship on Saturday night, and they’ll have the rare opportunity to do so on their home floor. They also won it at home last year, though as the lower seed in that win over Piedmont Hills, they were technically considered the visiting team. There’ll be no such confusion on Saturday as the top-seeded Vikings will be the home side.

How they got there: Sequoia - Defeated No. 11 Milpitas 54-41, defeated No. 3 Evergreen Valley 70-55, defeated No. 7 Independence 68-56. Palo Alto - Defeated No. 9 Mountain View 45-43, defeated No. 5 Santa Teresa 43-24.

Recent championship appearances: Sequoia - None. Palo Alto - 2017 (won Division I), 2019 (won Division I).

Players to watch: Sequoia - F Daniel Duran (Sr.), F Kiahn Nice-Whiteside (Jr.), G Sam Schult (Sr.). Palo Alto - F Matt Marzano (Sr.), C Ryan Purpur (Sr.), G Jamir Shepard (Sr.).

Girls schedule

Division V: No. 2 Notre Dame-Salinas (18-6) vs. No. 1 Woodside Priory (17-9), 12 p.m. at Palo Alto HS

Division III: No. 3 Mills (16-10) vs. No. 1 Aptos (24-4), 2 p.m. at Sequoia HS

Division IV: No. 2 Monte Vista Christian (16-10) vs. No. 1 Half Moon Bay (23-3), 4 p.m. at Palo Alto HS

Division I: No. 3 Menlo-Atherton (16-10) @ No. 1 Palo Alto (18-7), 6 p.m.

Division II: No. 3 St. Francis (12-12) vs. No. 1 Presentation (18-8), 6 p.m. at Sequoia HS

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