By Jeremy Balan
If its blowout win over Miramonte in the second round of the California Interscholastic Federation Division III state playoffs on Saturday didn’t validate the Sacred Heart Cathedral boys basketball team’s top seed, its performance on Tuesday sure did.
The Irish played one of their sloppiest games of the season, committing 21 turnovers, but still coasted to a 69-51 win over visiting Center of Antelope in the Northern California regional semifinals.
Sacred Heart (27-5) advances to face second-seeded Bishop O’Dowd in the Northern California championship game on Saturday at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento.
The Irish led 36-26 at the half, but came out of the locker room inspired, outscored the Cougars (23-9) 20-6 in the third quarter and opened up their largest lead of the game at 62-34 with 6:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“To be honest, I was not satisfied with Taylor [Johns] and [Joshua Fox] in the first half,” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “I thought they did some things out of character and it led to their play. Most of it was focus. They weren’t where they needed to be and they are our leaders. They did some things that were uncharacteristic and they heard about it at halftime.”
The pair of standout senior forwards combined to score 29 points, but with intermittent malfunction on the offensive end, the Irish defense was the difference, especially in the crucial third quarter.
Led by a standout defensive performance from junior guard Herman Pratt and six combined blocks from Fox and Johns, the Irish held Center to just 2-of-11 shooting in the third quarter and forced eight turnovers.
“Our defense triggered our offense and that third quarter and it started with Herman and Khalil [James],” Barbour said.
Three of the turnovers came on steals from Pratt, who guarded standout Center guard Christopher Smith and limited the senior to just 13 points. Smith came into the game averaging over 21 points per game and scored 24 points in a first-round win over Mission last week.
“He has something in him – he doesn’t know how good he can be,” Barbour said of Pratt. “He has something that just burns to be good and he’s a competitor. He does it every day – that effort, every day.”
The Irish also got a lift from another stellar shooting performance by shooting guard Tyler Petroni. The senior scored a game-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor and 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
“He makes those shots, then misses two free throws in a row after a technical,” Barbour said. “Early in the year, he would get down on himself. Now he can rebound from those missed shots and go out and make the next shot. That’s been his transition from December.”
Even though Barbour removed all of the Sacred Heart starters midway through the fourth quarter and the game was in hand for nearly the entire second half, Center head coach Ray Gagnon focused on the performance of the game’s referees after the game.
“I hate to do this, because I tell my kids not to do this, but it’s too bad the kids can’t determine the outcome of the game,” Gagnon said. “You saw it. Even when our guy obviously charged their guy. It was bad. I’m sorry, our kids didn’t have a chance tonight. If the game is called fairly, it’s competitive.”
The Irish now shift their focus to the championship game against O’Dowd, a team that beat them decisively in the state tournament last season.
“We know we’re going to play a very good team,” Barbour said. “The ball is going to go up on Saturday and we’re going to see who the best team is.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Tyler Petroni – 17
Joshua Fox – 16
Taylor Johns – 13
Herman Pratt – 8
Two players tied with 4 points
Christopher Smith – 13
Kenneth Parker – 10
Myles Hunter – 8
Marcus Horton – 5
Three players tied with 4 points