By Jeremy Balan
It’s no surprise that the Sacred Heart Cathedral and Bishop O’Dowd boys basketball teams are meeting in the California Interscholastic Federation Division III Northern California regional championship game on Saturday at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento.
Since the season tipped off, the two teams have been tabbed as the best in the region’s division and neither was truly challenged in the prior two rounds of the tournament.
With all that being said, the game represents the final hurdle for the top-seeded Irish (27-5) before they can reach the state title game.
The Dragons (26-5) have been the north’s representative the past two seasons, but fell short in the state title game both times. O’Dowd won its only state championship in 1981 at the Division I level, but has lost seven straight state title games since.
The Irish won their only state championship in 2009 and lost another in 2006 when they were in Division IV.
“What people lose sight of is how hard it is, first of all to have a good program, and doing that year in and year out,” Sacred Heart coach Darrell Barbour said after the Irish’s lopsided win over 12th-seeded Center in the regional semifinals Tuesday. “It’s not easy and people just assume because you have good players, you’re going to win.”
O’Dowd also knocked the Irish out of the playoffs in the second round of last season’s NorCal playoffs, on Sacred Heart’s home court. The game last season was an upset in terms of seeding (Sacred Heart was the third seed, while O’Dowd was No. 6), but the Dragons were considered by most as the best team in the bracket.
Since then, however, O’Dowd lost standout forward Brandon Ashley on a well-publicized transfer to basketball factory Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev., but still had enough of talent to win a North Coast Section championship with relative ease this season.
“Not knowing what happened at Bishop O’Dowd — Ashley did what he needed to do and that’s a personal decision — but it speaks volumes of that coaching staff and those kids,” Barbour said. “Our respect for them is off the charts.”
The winner on Saturday will face the Southern California champion (either top-seeded Alemany of Mission Hills or St. John Bosco of Bellflower) on March 24, but Barbour and the Irish are not taking the opportunity for granted.
“To get to where we are Saturday is a blessing,” Barbour said “Would I want this every year? Of course, but I know how hard it is to do it. When you do get there, you cherish it.”