By ERIK STORDAHL | SportStars
The ball left Taylor Johns hands from point-blank range. It glided on the rim for what seemed an eternity. It looked like it was going in. If it did, it would’ve tied the game and, most likely, forced overtime “” it didn’t.
Instead, Marqueze Coleman grabbed the rebound, buried two free throws with nine seconds remaining and Alemany-Mission Hills held on to beat Sacred Heart Cathedral-S.F. 71-67 in the CIF Division III state championship on March 24.
SHC head coach Darrell Barbour summed up the final moments of the game as succinctly as anyone could.
So it went for the Irish, a team which just one week prior benefited from a lucky break against Bishop O’Dowd in the CIF Div. III Northern Regional title game where it won 61-57.
In that game, Irish senior Tyler Petroni recovered a loose ball with less than one minute left in the game and dished it to Josh Fox for a game-clinching dunk. Most players on the floor thought they heard a whistle and momentarily stopped playing, including Fox, but Petroni instinctively fell on the ball and found his teammate standing by the hoop.
Bishop O’Dowd failed to recover.
“Tyler does little things, he’s a cerebral player,” Barbour said of that play. “But he makes winning plays, and all these guys are like that. They do whatever it takes to give us a chance to be successful.”
Fox, giddy and wide-eyed in the post-game press conference, stood aloof next to the basket when his teammate found him.
“I thought it was a jump ball so I looked at Coach (Barbour),” Fox said. “And I hear Tyler yelling my name ‘Josh, Josh, turn around.’ Turned around, caught it and I dunked it.”
Making those type of hustle plays characterized the season for SHC, a team not blessed with overpowering size and length. Their tallest players are seniors Fox and Johns, both standing at 6-foot-4.
The scrappiness and grit of the Irish enabled them to go toe-to-toe with some of the powerhouse programs on their schedule, and one could argue playing for the state title would be a pipe-dream if it wasn’t for the team-first style of basketball they wholeheartedly endorsed.
It also helps they had the veteran experience of Fox, who was on the bench as a JV call-up when the Irish won the Div. III state title in 2009.
“I told (my teammates) just feel blessed,” Fox said after the win over Bishop O’Dowd. “Because not too many people get to do this. There’s teams here watching us play today, we’re just lucky to be playing here. “¦ And there’s no tomorrow was basically what we were saying to each other.”
The Irish adhered to Fox’s wisdom heading into the state championship. They enjoyed an eight-point lead at halftime but it didn’t last long. Coleman went off in the second half for the Warriors, making clutch baskets and finishing with a game-high 27 points. In turn, SHC got into serious foul trouble with juniors Khalil James and Herman Pratt fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Coleman’s teammate, Max Guercy, added 19 points and eight rebounds as Alemany won its first state championship in 57 years.
“My kids kept coming back,” Barbour said. “They played with a lot of heart like we normally do, that didn’t surprise me about this group. “¦ I gotta say that it feels different than winning the last game and losing the last game, but we’ll deal with it.”
When the wounds heal, the Irish can reflect on a season rife with accomplishments. They came a long way this season and marched into Power Balance Pavilion with plenty of battle scars.
Nestled in the West Catholic Athletic League, arguably the toughest league in Northern California top to bottom, SHC emerged with a 10-4 record. Their five losses heading into the Alemany game were by a combined 12 points against CIF Division II state champ Archbishop Mitty-San Jose (three losses by a combined eight points), Serra-San Mateo (by three points), and Bellarmine-San Jose (by one point).
“Losing those games it was tough on us because I thought we could’ve won every single game this year,” Fox said. “But we just learned from our mistakes. And coaches kept telling us ‘You have to get better every single day’ and “¦ as a team that’s what we did, kept pushing each other.”
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