In some sports, such as track and field, it’s much easier for great California high school athletes to end their careers with a magical moment.
It’s the final race, final jump, final relay leg and they do what they usually do. Win, collect a medal, wave to the crowd (now at Veteran’s Stadium in Clovis) and head off toward college.
Watching someone like Marion Jones of Thousand Oaks do that in 1993 still can cause goose bumps many years later.
In other sports, like football, basketball and baseball, getting the opportunity to do something magical as a final moment for a prep career is much more unpredictable. Simple bounces of the ball can decide the games; a great player can be on a losing team; and just having to subbed out of a lopsided win are all factors that can prevent that special, spine-tingling experience.
In this year’s CIF Open Division state final, of course, everyone there will be able to tell the story of Bishop O’Dowd’s Ivan Rabb for many years. Rabb got to enjoy such a moment when he connected for a game-winning free throw with 0.8 seconds left to give the Dragons their 65-64 win in overtime over four-time defending state champion Mater Dei-Santa Ana.
One player who did not get that magic moment was 2013 and 2014 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year Aaron Gordon of Archbishop Mitty-San Jose. Gordon was on a Mitty team as a senior that lost to Mater Dei in the Open Division state championship.
It wasn’t a game-winning basket or game-winning point, but the legendary Jason Kidd of St. Joseph-Alameda had such a moment in the 1992 CIF Division I final (also against Mater Dei). With the Pilots firmly in control in the fourth quarter, Kidd got a steal and dunk. He came off the court and all who were there knew that one chapter was over but another chapter was beginning in what might be a great career.
Some of the best magical moments to end a prep career also have come in baseball.
In the 1979 CIF L.A. City Section championships at Dodger Stadium, Granada Hills won the title over Crenshaw of Los Angeles when Granada Hills senior pitcher John Elway struck out Crenshaw’s Darryl Strawberry. Elway’s next stop was to play football and baseball at Stanford.
In another L.A. City baseball final a few years later, Cleveland-Reseda pitcher Bret Saberhagen completed a no-hitter in his last game. He would later become a World Series MVP for the Kansas City Royals.
Football might be even harder for a player at Rabb’s level to have a final magical moment. One of the best we’ve ever seen was by Pittsburg defensive end Regan Upshaw, who got a sack against De La Salle-Concord that sealed a win over the Spartans in the 1991 CIF North Coast Section Division I championship. Upshaw went on to have a solid NFL career. De La Salle hasn’t lost an NCS playoff game since that play.
Rabb also could have just as easily suffered a horrendous final moment for his prep career if he had missed both of those final free throws. We didn’t see it, but have researched the final game that Barry Bonds played in baseball for Serra-San Mateo. It was a CIF Central Coast Section baseball game and the MLB career home run king (add asterisk if you wish) struck out in his final at-bat.
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