One for the books: Irish making history

There is no national season-ending tournament, no best-of-seven final series.

In the highly subjective world of elite high school basketball, claims to national championships are always prefaced with the term “mythical” and hundreds of players point an index finger skyward after winning state title games every year.

But this much is certain: If the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls’ basketball team — currently 32-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today — can beat Magnolia of Anaheim at Arco Arena Saturday for its third straight CIF title, the Irish could make an argument that not only are they this year’s national champion, they deserve to be in the conversation when people discuss the best teams in state history.

“Part of the hallmark for great teams is the ability to win multiple titles in a row,” said Clay Kallam, the editor of Women’s Basketball magazine who compiles the girls’ basketball rankings for Sports Illustrated. “Sacred Heart is going for three straight, and that definitely puts them right up there in the pantheon of great teams.”

According to CalHiSports.com, the Irish’s current 55-game winning streak leaves them tied with the Brea Olinda teams from 1988-90 for the seventh-longest unbeaten run in state history. Also according to CalHiSports.com, with a victory over Magnolia (27-6), Sacred Heart would become the ninth team in state history to win at least three straight state titles and the 40th since 1969 to complete an undefeated season.

Not impressed yet? Only four other California programs have finished the season ranked No. 1 since USA Today began its rankings in 1982, and the Irish would become the first NorCal program to achieve the honor.

“Are they one of the best? It’s not even a question,” said James Anderson, the former coach at Narbonne of Harbor City who led the Gauchos to back-to-back mythical championships in 2000 and 2001.

The NorCal program with the longest winning streak, according to CalHiSports.com, is Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton. The Gators won 80 straight from 1992-94, went 113-1 from 1993-95 and won state titles in 1993, ’94, ’95 and ’96. Those teams were coached by Mike Ciardella, who has watched the Irish admiringly in his current position as athletic director at West Catholic Athletic League rival Notre Dame of Belmont.

“I was actually thinking the other day about how they have a good chance to break our [winning streak],” Ciardella said. “And I hope they do. They’re a special team.”

Sacred Heart Cathedral coach Brian Harrigan said that while the players remain focused on the task at hand, he will try to put the win in context if the team is able to beat Magnolia.

“I’m sure it’s in the back of everybody’s minds, but it’s not something we really talk about now,” Harrigan said. “But if we’re lucky enough to get it done Saturday I would really try to make sure the girls understood what a special end that would be.”

melliser@examiner.com

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