Central Catholic’s run to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 boys title came to an end last year at the hands of Stockton’s Brookside Christian.
After about two minutes into Wednesday’s semifinal rematch between the schools, it looked as if the Raiders were in for another semifinal-round loss to the Knights.
“You got to watch two basketball games tonight,” said a jubilant CC coach Mike Wilson as he headed into the locker room following the Raiders’ come-from-behind, 56-47 victory at Galt High School, referring to the day-and-night difference between the first and second halves.
And, just like last season, Capital Christian awaits the winner of the CC-BC semifinal showdown. The Cougars of Sacramento (26-3), ranked ninth in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, hammered Forest Lake Christian 86-27 in the other semifinal; they’re led by 6-foot-8, Michigan-bound forward D.J. Wilson.
“I love the underdog role,” said Wilson. “I love it.”
Central Catholic will be a huge underdog when it meets Capital Christian on Friday in a 5:30 p.m. contest at Sleep Train Arena.
Wednesday, the Raiders were only a slight underdog – seeded No. 2 to Brookside’s No. 3 – but it didn’t look that way early.
Missed shots, turnovers blown assignments, and most notably, a lack of urgency on the glass helped the Knights to a quick 9-0 lead and a 16-6 advantage after one quarter.
“That was addressed at halftime,” said Wilson of his team’s lack of aggression on the boards. “We did a poor job of screening out.”
At that point, Wilson switched from a zone defense to man-to-man.
The Knights (25-4) had to work harder to get off their shots and it dragged down the tempo of their offense.
“We thought the zone would slow them down,” said Wilson. “It was the other way around.”
Central’s 6-foot-6 senior forward, Jonathan Boddie looked like a new man after the break. He opened the second half by blocking Brookside’s first two shot attempts and was far more aggressive on the boards.
“We just picked it up in the second half and played better defense,” said Boddie, in the understatement of the season. “We wanted to win; I was really proud of the way we played.”
Trailing just 39-34 going entering the fourth quarter, Boddie (11 points) put in Central’s first two buckets as the Raiders closed the gap to 40-38.
Donovin Townsend’s 15-footer with 5:13 to play made it 40-40, and Boddie gave the Raiders (25-5) their first lead at 42-40 with a strong inside move.
“We started looking for Jonathan inside more,” said Townsend (12 points). “And then it was a matter of executing moves we’ve practiced a thousand times.”
After falling behind for the first time in the contst, Brookside countered with a 3-pointer and a put-back make it 45-42 with 3 minutes, 25 seconds, remaining.
But Central kept its inside-first mentality.
Peter Hamilton (13 points) scored on nice drives to the rim on back-to-back possessions to make it 46-45 and Townsend, capitalizing on Brookside’s newfound respect for the inside attack, buried a wide-open 3-pointer to give CC a four-point margin with 1:48 to play.
“They had to respect our inside game,” said Townsend. “I was surprised to be that open, but I knocked it down.”
From there, the Raiders put the game away by hitting seven of eight free-throw attempts in the final 47 seconds.
“That was huge. The last time we played in this gym we lost a game where we didn’t shoot free throws very well,” said Wilson, referring to an 82-71 loss to Elliot Christian in the Galt tournament last December.
That was three months ago. Now the Raiders are just a day away from facing one of the state’s best teams, with a section championship on the line.
“We just take it as a challenge,” said Townsend. “We line up five and they line up five.”