Sacramento High blasts rival Christian Brothers to win back-to-back section championships

Article The Sacramento Bee2.22.24

Twice, the Sacramento Dragons could have watched their basketball season unravel since their last visit here.

There was an abrupt coaching change just before the start of fall practices, and then there was a lull in effort and production late in the Capital Athletic League season, resulting in three losses to teams motivated to douse the Dragons return run to a championship. But on Wednesday afternoon at Golden 1 Center, the storied Dragons of Oak Park buried all of that old residue for good.

Top seeded and playing the part, Sacramento delivered its best game of the season and dropped the hammer on rival Christian Brothers to repeat as CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champions with a 72-49 victory. Three starters returned for this repeat charge in guards SirMarius Jones and Kendahl Hearne and forward Shobal Barksdale, and the bulk of the coaching staff came back to see it through, including first-year head man Sidney Duplessis.

He replaced previous coach Matt Johnson, The Bee’s Coach of the Year in 2023, who had a falling out with school administration but never stopped rooting for his guys. Dragons players urged school administrators to keep Duplessis in place, a man many of the players had grown up with and looked to as another father figure. It all came together beautifully here as Sacramento refused to let the game be competitive after splitting with CB in CAL play.

Barksdale, a muscle-bound banger, had 23 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots. Jones had six points, six assists and three steals while Hearne provided 10 points, 11 rebounds and nine of his team’s 20 assists. Ishun Wallace scored 16 points and Damarion Taylor had 10 to provide a balanced attack that overwhelmed the Falcons.

CB was led by Shawn Underwood’s 22 points and 13 from Stephan Hewitt, the team leaders all season. This is the ninth section banner for Sacramento and its eighth since 2010.

The club will return enough players for another run next season, not to mention taking on the CIF Northern California field as those tournaments start next week.

All section semifinalists and finalists advance to the NorCals. “I told them to go out and execute, to play the right way, swing the ball,” Duplessis said. “We’re the better team.

The only way we don’t win is if we don’t play together.” A 13-game winning streak for the Dragons (25-7) dissolved into three CAL losses in a four-game stretch, including a 71-48 loss to Capital Christian after beating that team earlier and a five-point setback to Christian Brothers.

You couldn’t tell by the way the Dragons competed on Wednesday that there were any speed bumps to the season. Hearne said his team is every bit a band of brothers, including moments of bickering.

“We got into an argument last night,” he said with a laugh. “But we got our minds on our goal to get here and repeat. Coach has been with us since middle school. He is a big part of this. We trusted him and the process.”

Players and coaches were delighted to see a large throng of Sac High students show up to offer spirited support.

Coaches and players said that a lot of students grow up with challenges and that sports like this and events like this are a reminder that good things happen to those who work for it.

Dragons players and coaches for decades have expressed pride in their hard-boiled Oak Park roots, where the school stands as a beacon of civic pride. “Our kids have grit,” Duplessis said.

“They’re battle tested at home and at school with academics. Tough neighborhood. Kids come from humble beginnings. Basketball is a way out. For these guys, basketball is home away from home.”

Hearne is proof that great grades and athleticism can indeed be a ticket out. He has signed with Cornell University of the Ivy League to study and play sports. He wants to write screenplays someday. He has a topic at his old school, the oldest in the region. “Always give back,” he said of his motto. “Everyone of these guys is my brother.”

Duplessis said he gets on Hearne to not overdo it with the pass, saying, “Don’t give me a headache!”

Added the coach: “He texted me last night and said he wanted to guard No. 13. You got it.” That would be Hewitt, a 6-2 guard up against a 6-2 guard.

Hewitt shot 4 of 17 from the floor with Hearne hounding him. For all of the offensive fireworks of the Dragons, the grit comes from the 6-6 Barksdale. He’s all shy manners until he bangs for boards and rejects shots.

He’s also a thunder dunker. “I love blocking shots, getting rebounds,” he said. “I was born like that to rebound.” His coach agreed, saying: “I think he was born to play basketball. He’s an athlete. He can do anything.” The Dragons are not finished.

They now set their focus on winning the program’s first CIF state championship. History has shown that is easier said than done. Duplessis said: “We’re not done. We had the 13-game winning streak and we were looking at our stats.

We had to look ourselves in the mirror and identify ourselves, be a team and play that team ball that brought us together in the first place.”

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