By Jeremy Balan
Coming into this season, University looked to be a solid contender for the Division V state championship, but one thing was clear then, and became crystal-clear after the CIF North Coast Section title game — the state title goes through St. Joseph Notre Dame.
The Red Devils got a taste of just how good St. Joseph can be with a 63-32 loss in the NCS final, but will get a chance at redemption in the Northern California championship game on Saturday at Folsom High School.
“For a combination of reasons, that result was something we were embarrassed about,” said University head coach Randal Bessolo. “Hopefully we’ll be able to use that as motivation.”
The lopsided result in NCS was shocking for a reason. In the past two years, the two teams have played four times and have split their meetings, including a University overtime upset in the NorCal semifinals last season. The 32 points University scored was their lowest total since the 2005-06 season.
“We got them twice last year, they got us twice this year,” Bessolo said. “This is a game that we’ve been building toward all year long. We’ve known that to get to the state championship, this is the game we’d have to win.”
The result has thrust the Red Devils once more into the underdog role, one they are more than familiar with.
“Early on in the season, we played some really good teams and we were the underdogs in all of those games,” Bessolo said. “But we weren’t the underdog again until we faced St. Joeseph. Sometimes its more comfortable to be in the underdog role.”
The Red Devils figure to rely heavily on senior guards Noah Springwater and Zio Enriquez, who have led them on both ends of the court all season, but it’s how they guard standout 6-foot-10 St. Joseph center Brendan Keane that may be the difference.
The Northern Colorado-bound senior was almost a nonfactor in the NCS championship game, but the Pilots showed great versatility, as their guards locked down Enriquez and Springwater, which fueled a potent fast-break attack.
Bessolo acknowledged that the loss in NCS was their worst game of the season, and he knows a change in attitude and intensity is necessary if the Red Devils want a chance at their first state championship in school history.
“We’re going to focus on coming in with a proper mental edge,” Bessolo said. “We want to come in hungry.”