Sacred Heart Cathedral defies the odds to return to state title game 

click to enlarge Point guard Khalil James is one of two returning starters to Sacred Heart. - MATT ZHENG/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Matt Zheng/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Point guard Khalil James is one of two returning starters to Sacred Heart.

Sacred Heart Cathedral boys’ basketball coach Darrell Barbour still hasn’t watched the film of the Division III state championship game from a year ago and he probably never will.

Sacred Heart’s 71-67 loss to Bishop Alemany still stings too much.

But now the Irish, with what many thought would be a diminished roster, will be back in Sacramento playing for another state title, this time against St. Augustine of San Diego on Friday at Sleep Train Arena.

“Personally, I never felt we’d have good enough players to get to this point,” Barbour said. “They just find a way.”
The common perception entering the season was that because the Irish lost so much from last year’s team — most notably 6-foot-6 forwards Taylor Johns and Joshua Fox (who both now play at UC Riverside), but also shooting guard Tyler Petroni — they would have a down year.

Coming back this season were no players listed taller than 6-2, although Liam O’Reilly is probably closer to 6-3 or 6-4, but the junior is still the only true post player on the team.

“Us not having a guy over 6-2 or 6-3 made us realize that we might not have this shot again,” said Sacred Heart Cathedral guard Herman Pratt, one of just two returning senior starters, along with point guard Khalil James.

“Hard work, practice and conditioning helped a lot.”

The Irish, despite their lack of size, surprised many with a third-place finish in the brutal West Catholic Athletic League, entered the state tournament as Northern California’s top seed and hold a 21-11 record.

Although they are outsized by most opponents, St. Augustine features a particularly large roster. Guards Brynton Lemar (a UC Davis commit) and Trey Kell are 6-3 and 6-4, respectively, and starting center Drew Madsen is listed as 6-5. The Saints, the top-seed in the Southern California bracket with a 28-4 record, will outsize the Irish starters at every position and.

“The challenges that we have [against St. Augustine] are the challenges we have every time we step on the floor,” Barbour said. “It worries me every time we go into a game how we’re going to rebound.”

The low expectations from outsiders early in the season gave Sacred Heart something to prove, but with a different personnel group and a faster tempo of play gave the Irish a new look. That look was crafted out of necessity, but it worked, and without a true superstar, the Irish are back in Sacramento again.

“The biggest thing is that they needed to understand who we are,” Barbour said. “The times we get in trouble is when a guy feels like he has to do it by himself and we don’t have a guy like that. ... When we accept that fact, that this is who we are, we play pretty well.”

SHC vs. St. Augustine

  • WHAT: CIF State Division III boys’ basketball championship
  • WHEN: Friday, 4 p.m.
  • WHERE: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento
  • INFO: www.cifstate.org

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Jeremy Balan

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