Sacred Heart ready for Arco showdown

Can the St. Mary’s of Stockton full-court press upset the usually unflappable Sacred Heart Cathedral girls’ basketball team?

Will an Irish defense permitting just 39.9 points per game be able to slow down a Rams attack scoring 84.4 a game?

And perhaps most importantly, will star Sacred Heart forward Tierra Rogers play after taking a hard foul and falling on her hip late in Thursday’s 67-46 win over Sacramento in the NorCal Division III semifinal?

These are just a few of the questions surrounding today’s final at Arco Arena at 6 p.m., as top-seeded Sacred Heart (31-0, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today and Sports Illustrated) and second-seeded St. Mary’s (32-0, No. 8 USA Today, No. 5 SI) prepare to play one of the most eagerly anticipated prep girls’ basketball games in California in recent memory.

“This is something really special,” said Clay Kallam, who edits Women’s Basketball magazine and compiles the rankings for SI. “So often when you look at high school basketball, it’s very localized. This is a huge national game that could very well decide the national championship.”

The two-time defending state champion Irish have been here before. The team carries a 54-game winning streak into today’s game, including 10 straight in NorCal and state elimination games. One of those was a 79-51 triumph over the Rams in last year’s semifinals.

“The thing that’s really special about this group is they’re able to stay so even keel all the time,” Sacred Heart coach Brian Harrigan said. “I know it’s a cliché, but this group really does take it one game at a time.”

But in this game the team could be shorthanded. Pepperdine-bound senior guard Lauren Bell is already out after injuring her knee against St. Ignatius in the Central Coast Section final and now Rogers’ status is uncertain. Harrigan said before Friday’s practice the junior would receive treatment on her hip throughout the afternoon and it was too soon to tell whether she would play.

It was enough to give St. Francis of Sacramento coach Victor Pitton pause. The Troubadours (who face Mitty in the Division II final at Arco at 2 p.m. today) are one of three teams to play — and lose — to both the Irish and St. Mary’s this season.

“When we played [Sacred Heart], that was the best high school basketball team I’ve seen in any year,” said Pitton, who’s attended every state title game since 1994. “But with Bell already out, if Rogers is ineffective that could equalize things.”

Two-time Examiner Player of the Year Jazmine Jackson, point guard Ki-Ki Moore and post player Kamilah Jackson will all be ready to go for the Irish, and senior guard Rosslyn Beard has stepped in for Bell. St. Mary’s, which is led by sophomore guard Chelsea Gray, has 11 underclassmen and just two seniors on its roster.

melliser@examiner.com

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