After 11 Winning Seasons, Heritage Clinches Its First State Playoff Berth.
After 10 seasons of varsity basketball, and never a losing season, nobody could’ve blamed the Heritage-Brentwood boys or coach Pat Cruickshank if they didn’t feel a bit cursed at the end of the 2015-16 season.
The Patriots rode into the North Coast Section Division I playoffs last season as the No. 3 seed with a 21-5 record. Just two postseason wins would secure the program’s first bid to the CIF state playoffs. But after a double-overtime 87-84 home loss to No. 14-seed Castro Valley in the opening round, it was not to be. Again.
Just 366 days later, senior forward Anthony Dennis scored four points inside the final 30 seconds to seal a 62-58 NCS Div. I quarterfinal win over visiting Clayton Valley-Concord. And the program’s 800-pound gorilla was finally shown the door — the 11th season was the charm.
Dennis led the team with 15 points and was one of four players in double figures. Senior brothers Tyriq and Tyrese Mack had 14 and 13, respectively. Junior Johnathan Ned had 10.
Dennis didn’t need any help grasping the significance of the moment. He admitted Cruickshank had them thinking about it for the previous 365 days.
This would be the year
“I think he knew all along,” Dennis said of Cruickshank. “He told us after the loss to Castro Valley last year. It was on me, the twins and John next year. And we did it.”
It’s the program’s second trip to the NCS semifinals. The Patriots last reached in 2009 as part of the Division II field — it was the only season of the past nine in which the NCS only got two state bids instead of four. So the 2009 team’s season ended in a 61-47 semifinal loss to top-seeded Hayward.
The No. 2-seeded Heritage, which was 25-3 entering its March 1 semifinal against No. 3 De La Salle-Concord, may have its automatic ticket to regionals but won’t be satisfied with just that one first. A first section final would feel a lot sweeter.
“This feels good because these kids have worked so hard for this over the year,” Cruickshank said. “I still think we can play better than we have. … But tonight was fairly complete. They wanted this bad tonight. They knew what this meant and they went out and took care of it.”
A few reasons for Heritage’s success this season include a sterling 9-0 record on its home floor prior to hosting De La Salle for the semifinal. The Mack brothers also comprise one of the best defensive backcourts in the section.
“They’re like a bunch fleas that you can’t get off of you for the whole game,” Dennis said laughing. “They might be the best two defenders in NorCal.”
REGIONAL SELECTION SURPRISE
There’s a new twist in the ever-evolving saga of the California postseason: Unlike recent years, there is no guarantee that the Northern California Open Division Regional bracket will be completely full.
If indeed the new CIF committee that selects the Open Division teams (and does all the seeding and bracketing for Divisions I through VI) only chooses six or seven teams, the trickle-down effect would have a major impact on almost every other NorCal division. Especially for the girls brackets.
For example, last year Miramonte-Orinda beat Brookside Christian-Stockton by 68, and St. Mary’s-Stockton beat Carondelet-Concord by 24, but what if Brookside Christian had been in its assigned Division IV? Would Cardinal Newman still have its Div. IV state banner on the wall? (And, not incidentally, Brookside would not have been in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I bracket this year.) And if Carondelet had been placed in the Division I bracket instead of the Open, would St. Francis have advanced to the state title game?
DIVISION VI DANDIES
Though all the attention in the coming weeks will be rightfully focused on the race for state championships, it would be unfair to ignore the quality Division VI girls teams, which will conclude their season at the end of the NorCal playoffs.
Look for unbeaten (at press time) Loyalton, a resurgent Rincon Valley Christian-Santa Rosa (alma mater of one of Northern California’s all-time best players, Erin Buescher), and Valley Christian-Roseville to make a deep run — and also show that even though there may not be that many future NCAA stars on those rosters, good basketball is good basketball no matter what the division.
— Chace Bryson & Clay Kallam
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