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Sacred Heart Cathedral girls enter state championship swaggering

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The Sacred Heart Cathedral girls basketball team claimed the CIF Northern California Division I Championship on Saturday. (Courtesy Harold Abend)

The Sacred Heart Cathedral girls found their swagger, and that must be terrifying thing for anybody in their way. That flair was on full display in Saturday’s CIF Northern California Division I Championship win over Miramonte, where the Fightin’ Irish attacked the hoop repeatedly en route to a 69-48 win to advance to the state title game for the second time in three years.

That’s right, the team that sat at 5-12 just two months ago is now playing for a state championship, and it’s no fluke. Saturday was a clinical display of defense, rebounding, physical post play and great team basketball, leading to a fifth-straight win. Nobody on the roster averages more than nine points per game, and in the NorCal championship, there was no scorer over 12 points, but it’s the team-first mentality that’s been so crucial to getting this team rolling.

Considering that the Irish had to replace Iimar’I Thomas, who averaged 25 points and 13.4 rebounds per game, it made for a difficult adjustment. Now that they’ve been able to figure out their rotations and utilize their tremendous depth, they have the opportunity to win a sixth state title on Friday night, a game against Serra of Gardena that’s set to tip off at 6 p.m. at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

“We’ve got a lot of bodies, so we’re able to rotate a lot of people in,” said head coach LyRyan Russell, who led the team to the 2016 title after inheriting the role from legendary head coach Brian Harrigan.

That deep rotation allows for the unit to play with incredible energy. Whether it’s Jayden Benitez or freshman Milan Tuttle at point guard, Gianna Silvestri hitting a 3-pointer or one of Yaniah Fleming, Errayanna Hatfield, Saupuni Mavaega, Rainah Smith or Talo Li-Uperesa bruising their way through the paint, the Irish can wear teams down, as they did on Saturday by outscoring Miramonte 24-11 in the fourth quarter.

Stuart Hall boys, Lowell girls playing for state crowns

With a talented but young roster, the Stuart Hall Knights were supposed to be a year away from contending. After an NCS quarterfinal loss to St. Mary’s-Albany, it looked like next year would have to be the promised land, but an impressive state tournament run, including a win over top-seeded Santa Cruz and a 17-point comeback against that same St. Mary’s team, has the Knights set to take on View Park of Los Angeles on Friday at noon in the Division IV State Championship Game.

Miles Amos scored 23 in Saturday’s overtime win against St. Mary’s, and he, along with freshman Nigel Burris, have a tremendous opportunity to prove themselves on the biggest stage come Friday.

Lowell’s girls will be playing Saturday at 10 a.m. against Sierra Pacific of Hanford in the Division V Championship. The Cardinals, who finished tied for first in the AAA with Lincoln by virtue of a quadruple-overtime loss, may have lost the City championship but have since launched a tremendous run, beating top-seeded University on Tuesday and Durham on Saturday to reach the championship.

The competitive equity system has placed them in Division V, where they have a chance to be the first San Francisco public school to ever win a girls title.

Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at ethankassel@gmail.com.

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