After losing key players from last year’s squad that had aspirations of a state championship, the Sacred Heart Prep boys’ basketball team has exceeded expectations and is one win away from the California Interscholastic Federation title game.
“It was disappointing to everybody,” SHP coach Tony Martinellli said of last year’s team that was eliminated in the NorCal quarterfinals.
“With this type of team that nobody expected much out of ... kind of getting it going at this time of year, it’s a special feeling.”
SHP (23-6) will take on North Coast Section Division IV champion Salesian on Saturday in the Division IV NorCal championship at Folsom High School.
Salesian (32-2) will be the most athletic team the Gators will have seen this season, Martinelli said, and is fully aware of the challenge ahead.
“They’re a handful,” Martinelli said of Salesian. “We’re going to go on the teams we’ve seen.”
But SHP is playing its best basketball right now, having won nine in a row, including a win in the NorCal playoffs against St. Patrick-St. Vincent, which knocked the Gators out the playoffs a year ago.
“That gave us a little confidence that we could do that at our place,” Martinelli said. “That felt pretty good for our guys.”
The Gators have faced increasingly more athletic teams and, surprising to some, they have not shied away from playing the uptempo style they have used all year.
“We still like to go up and down,” Martinelli said. “Not really backing off that.”
Cole McConnell has been a big part to the Gators’ success, but teams have tried to take him away recently.
“What has been great about this team is other guys have stepped up,” Martinelli said. “In a game like this, it’s not going to be one guy.”
Salesian has not lost since mid-February and is led by junior standout Jabari Bird.
The 6-foot-6 forward already has scholarship offers from Cal, Washington, and Arizona, according to ESPN.com.
WHAT: Boys’ CIF Division IV NorCal championship
WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Folsom High School, Folsom
AT STAKE: A trip to the state championship game March 23