SACRAMENTO — The Sacred Heart Cathedral boys’ basketball team’s chances of winning a state championship simply rolled off the rim in a 71-67 loss to Alemany of Mission Hills in the California Interscholastic Federation Division III championship game on Saturday at Power Balance Pavilion.
Down 69-67 with under 30 seconds remaining, Sacred Heart junior guard Khalil James drove into the lane and released a shot. Sacred Heart senior forward Taylor Johns skied for the rebound, tipped the ball softly back onto the rim, but the ball swirled off the back iron.
Alemany standout senior Marqueze Coleman took in the ensuing rebound and was immediately fouled with 9 seconds left.
“We were not going to lose this game on an offensive rebound,” Coleman said. “I snatched the rebound to secure the win. We weren’t going to lose on that.”
That’s when a big-time player hit two big-time shots.
Coleman, headed to Nevada next season, sunk both free throws to cap off a game-high 27 points and put the game out of reach.
“[I] make two and the game is over,” Coleman said.
What cannot be overlooked is the impact of foul trouble in the game.
In the first half, Coleman and fellow starters Jerico Richardson and Bear Henderson all missed significant time and the Irish held a 40-32 advantage at the break.
In the third quarter, Johns, who was on pace to set a state championship game record with 14 first-half rebounds to go along with 11 points, received his fourth foul as did standout defender Herman Pratt.
Their absence allowed Alemany to outscore the Irish 23-11 in the third quarter and to take a 55-51 lead heading into the fourth.
“I had guys on the bench watching the game with me — players I need to have on the floor,” Sacred Heart coach Darrell Barbour said. “That’s critical. That being said, our kids kept fighting back.”
The pair’s foul trouble not only limited the Irish’s offense (John’s was held to two points in the second half), but the way they defended Coleman and Alemany point guard Max Guercy, who finished with 19 points. Pratt was no longer on Coleman and the driving Alemany guards no longer had to worry about Johns’ long shot-blocking arms.
“Taylor is a big body, athletic, takes up space, shot-blocker. Herman is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in high school I’ve ever seen,” Barbour said. “You take them off the floor and their aggressiveness away ... in our psyche and from a confidence standpoint, we got caught back on our heels.”
Senior forward Josh Fox buoyed the Irish in the second half with 12 of his team-high 19, but that didn’t take away the sting of the result, as both spent the postgame ceremony with their heads deeply buried in their hands.
“It feels different to win your last game than lose your last game,” Barbour said, his voice quivering.
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