With 32 wins and a trip to the Div. II state final, Folsom announced its presence with authority
By TREVOR HORN | Contributor
The expectations were not sky high.
Shoot, after three consecutive 12-15 seasons, Folsom High basketball coach Mike Wall said just making the playoffs was the big goal for the Bulldogs.
What a little heart, determination and togetherness can do for a young team.
Folsom went from an afterthought on the basketball scene to a near Cinderella-like story after the Bulldogs came up just short of a CIF Division II title, losing to St. John Bosco-Bellflower 63-54 on March 29 at Sleep Train Arena.
The loss ended a 22-game win streak that began at the beginning of the calendar year. Folsom (32-3) broke the school record for wins in a season (31-2 in 2008-09) and did it with a team that had just one senior. In fact, every point scored in the state tournament was scored by an underclassmen.
“It was an amazing run, it really was,” Wall said. “It was something that just snuck up on us. We were just worried about being able to hopefully qualify for the playoffs when this season started, seriously.
We hadn’t been in the playoffs in two years and so playoffs were our first goal.”
HOW IT STARTED
Sophomore Jordan Ford showed glimpses of greatness as a freshman starting last season for Folsom. Averaging 14 points a game, there was promise that with his scoring ability and eight other players returning from the varsity squad, there could be something special.
A 10-game win streak to start the season for Folsom opened a lot of eyes. That was even with without the services of a handful of players who were still on the football field playing for the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. I champions that played until Dec. 14 in a loss to De La Salle in the CIF Northern Regional Open Division championship. Starting guard Josiah Deguara, who hit three 3-pointers against Bosco, was busy in the preseason, catching 104 passes for 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns for the football team.
Folsom’s football and basketball teams went a combined 46-4 this academic year.
“Us football guys never thought we’d go to state in basketball,” Deguara said. “It was a great season this year to be able to do that with these guys.”
While the gridiron guys were away, Ford was busy racking up three 30-plus point performances in the first six games of the season.
The only regular season losses came in consecutive games at the MaxPreps Holiday Classic in late December to teams that were also in the state tournament in March. Folsom lost to JW North-Riverside which advanced to the Open Division after losing to Open champions Mater Dei-Santa Ana in the Southern Section Open Division semifinals. The other loss came to Div. IV state runner-ups Moreau Catholic-Hayward.
Neither was anything to fret about.
Once the calendar flipped to 2014, the streak began. Folsom ran through the Delta River League with a 10-0 record, including two wins by a combined margin of seven points to SJS Div. I champions Jesuit-Carmichael. Folsom beat the rest of the league, including 2013 Div. II state champions Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove and four-time defending SJS Div. I section champions Sheldon-Elk Grove by an average of 23.5 points a game.
A new boss was in town.
Wall is no stranger to winning. The long-time coach and economics teacher at Folsom coached consecutive SJS section champions in 2007-08 and 2008-09. But both of those teams had seniors leading the way.
The 2007-08 team was led by senior Ben Palmer along with then-junior Tony Johnson, who led the Bulldogs to another section banner season the following year.
But this season was different.
Ford’s leadership was quickly evident. During the playoffs, Wall said of his sophomore guard that he has not seen a better late-game closer since Johnson. Along with Wall’s son Jared, also a sophomore, the Bulldogs realized in December that a lack of seniors in the starting lineup would not be a drawback.
Poised and well coached by Wall and assistant Matt Mills with his father Wayne, the pieces began to fall into place.
Those outside of the program told the coaching staff that this team could be good next year, but Wall said he “Doesn’t coach for next season.”
Deguara left the shoulder pads and became the second-leading scorer for Folsom in the playoffs. Six-foot-eight junior center Collin Russell showed he had muscle and quickness to go along with his tall frame. Lukas Hendricks, another football player at 6-5, became an inside force for the Bulldogs with Russell and Alec Andrews rounding out the starting lineup at guard.
Folsom beat Cosumnes Oaks-Elk Grove for the Div. II section championship and beat St. Ignatius-San Francisco and Serra-San Mateo before topping Cosumnes Oaks once again for the NorCal title. That win advanced the program to its first state championship game since winning the Div. III title in 1985.
Go back to that un-lofty preseason expectation of just trying to make the playoffs.
“When you start off with making the playoffs as your first goal and then you end up with trying to win a state championship at the end,” Wall said, “it is a pretty weird change in expectations.”
Folsom led Bosco after the first sixteen minutes of hte state final, but the athleticism of the Braves took over. Bosco featured a big three of Connecticut-bound senior Daniel Hamilton (22 points in finals), Arizona-commit junior Tyler Dorsey (24 points) and sophomore sensation Vance Johnson (13 points, 17 rebounds). That trio did the young Bulldogs in at the end after Folsom shot just 7 of 15 from the charity stripe and just 30.3 percent (20 of 66) from the field.
“Give (Bosco) credit,” Mike Wall said. “Their length and quickness and ability to close on the shooter and make us uncomfortable in shooting is going to lead to some of that. But we didn’t close on the free throw line.”
The best will learn more from a loss than a win. Adversity is key to building greatness.
“I can’t fault their effort and their heart,” Wall said of his young, talented team after the loss. “The way we battled to the end (is what) I love about these guys as a team. As a whole and as individuals.”
Returning 99 percent of the team’s offensive output could well vault the Bulldogs into rarefied air next year.
“It’s going to be completely flipped on its head,” Wall said. “People looking at us next year are going to be expecting us to be making another run deep into the playoffs.”
Ford, with offers from mid-majors like UC Davis and Cal State Northridge, will surely see those offers increase in the coming months and welcomes the added incentive to get better and compete for another title run.
“This year was great,” Ford said. “We didn’t get a lot of wins last year and we didn’t know what it felt like. But to make it this far after a season like we had last year is just amazing. We’re going to have the X on us. We are ready for it.”
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