SAN FRANCISCO —
It's a buzz, Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco)
girls basketball coach LyRyan Russell says. It's a vibe, SHC boys basketball coach Darrell Barbour said.
"It's just crazy good," SHC athletic director Jo Ann Momono.
It started with the Giants and World Series titles. It picked up with the 49ers and Super Bowl fever. And the Warriors have even caught it, making a playoff push.
And now the Bay Area's recent rash of athletic success has spread to the high school ranks and the Irish, the only school in the state of California sending two basketball teams to the CIF State Championships this weekend at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
The Irish girls (25-6) play 31-5 Alemany (Mission Hills)
at 2 p.m. Friday in the Division III finals, followed the Sacred Heart Cathedral
boys (21-11) against 28-4 St. Augustine (San Diego)
at 4 p.m.
"It's good to have that buzz in The City," said Russell, a first-year head coach. "This is a huge sports town and if the big teams are doing well, we want to represent also. This is something to be proud of. We're planning to come home with two state championships."
SHC is one of eight schools to send two teams to the finals in the same season and looks to be the fourth from the Bay Area to bring home two titles. The others were Sir Francis Drake (San Anselmo) in 1982, Branson (Ross) in 2007 and 2008 and Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) in 2012.
Other schools to pull it off were Ripon Christian (Ripon)
(1994 and 1992), Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
(1995, 2011, 2012), St. Bernard (Playa del Rey, Calif.)
(2000) and Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.)
(2000 and 2001).
Though both Sacred Heart Prep teams are underdogs in Friday's games, that won't deter either team. Few if any expected either Irish team to get this far, especially the boys, who made the state finals last year but graduated three key starters including Division I players Taylor Johns and Josh Fox. They don't have a player taller than 6-foot-2.
"But we expected it," said SHC senior and three-year starter
Herman Pratt IV
, a 6-foot forward who often guards opposing posts. "That's all that matters." See the MaxPreps California boys basketball brackets
Said girls 5-6 starting guard Briannah Smith
: "From the beginning of the season we put all our goals down with this being our ultimate goal. We just had to take them one step at a time."
Pratt and Smith personify the Irish teams. Both are undersized, defensive stoppers, with good mid-range games and constant motors. Like both teams, neither is flashy or selfish. Neither squad has a player with a Division I scholarship offer (the girls' leading scorer Ge'anna Summers-Luaulu
, a junior, is getting looks but no offers yet) and no one averages more than 12 points per game.
Both teams and players share the ball and have overachieved, which makes them team leaders and popular with their peers. What makes their dynamic even more appealing is they are dating and have been plotting this double date in Sacramento since the start of the season.See the MaxPreps California girls basketball brackets
When both teams prevailed in the regional finals at American Canyon High School Saturday, it was a dream engagement come true.
"So many people constantly doubted both teams but we've been about this weeks before the season," Smith said. "It's an amazing feeling because both teams just kept getting stronger and stronger every day. We support each other totally on and off the court and in the classroom. We're really, truly like a big family.
"It's going to be amazing on Friday."
It's already amazing to Pratt, who said basketball and the SHC family has already altered his life. Not only because he met Smith, but because Barbour's system kept him on the straight and narrow.
"I learned discipline and poise and to show respect for my school," Pratt said. "Basketball has helped keep me off the street. I live near a lot of bad neighborhoods and I just keep focused on the game and what I need to do.
"I've seen people killed in my neighborhood. When I get approached, I'll say hi but keep on moving forward."
He said hi to Smith at the San Francisco Boys and Girls Club, when many players from both teams would meet and even have fun scrimmages. Smith and Pratt have attended each other's games throughout the season and can do a pretty good scouting report.
"Bri does everything," Pratt said. "He dives on the floor. She locks up the other team's best offensive player. She can guard all five spots. She can drive and shoot. She can do it all."
Said Smith: "First off, his defense is far and away his best attribute. He also has the ability to get to the basket with a great first step and he has a quick release to get off outside shots. He finds a way to get key rebounds too. When I was younger watching him play, he really inspired me to get good in all those areas as well."
Barbour, who has guided three teams to the state finals in seven years, said the group approach works.
"We're not two teams, we're one big program," he said. "This is a special time and a special situation."
Barbour has been a great mentor to Russell, a former star player at SHC who took over a .500 team that won a section title last year under Mike Carey. Barbour and Russell have bonded and the players have followed suit. Both teams have won tenacious close games and hope for two more on Friday.
"We're not just preparing for Friday," Russell said. "We won't be satisfied unless we win it. We're sticking together until we get this done."