By Jeremy Balan
SACRAMENTO – Unlike so many playoff games this season, Sacred Heart Cathedral shooting guard Tyler Petroni did not light up the scoreboard against Bishop O’Dowd on Saturday.
The shots weren’t falling for Petroni, but with the game on the line and less than a minute remaining, the senior made a play to seal the Irish boys basketball team’s 61-57 win in the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Division III regional championship game at Power Balance Pavilion.
Sacred Heart (28-5) only held a 55-52 lead when junior guard Herman Pratt missed a 3-pointer. Bishop O’Dowd forward Richard Longrus took in the rebound, but fell to the floor after contact with an Irish player and a scrum ensued for the loose ball on the floor.
“I got the rebound falling over a guy and on my way down, they basically tackled me and I lost the ball,” Longrus said. “I didn’t see what happened after that.”
Pratt and Petroni both dove into the pile as O’Dowd attempted to call a timeout, but Petroni came up with the ball. While still on the floor, Petroni flipped the ball to senior forward Joshua Fox under the basket, who then slammed home a dunk to give the Irish a 57-52 lead with 42 seconds remaining.
“I saw Tyler and Herman on the floor and I thought it was a jump ball, so I looked at coach, then I heard Tyler call my name, ‘Josh, Josh, turn around,'” Fox said. “I turned around and caught it, and I dunked it.”
Petroni finished with five points and seven rebounds, but no stat was more important than that final assist.
“Tyler does the little things,” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “He’s a cerebral player and makes winning plays. All these guys are like that. They do what it takes.”
The Irish came through in the final moments, but their fate looked grim in the first quarter, when the second-seeded Dragons (26-6) appeared unstoppable in the paint and held their biggest lead at 23-10 with 51 seconds left in the opening frame.
“We came out flat for some reason and our focus wasn’t there defensively,” Barbour said. “As the game went on, we got better defensively and got tougher on the boards.”
The Irish defense stiffened in the second quarter and limited O’Dowd to just seven points in the frame, but Sacred Heart likely would have faced a significant deficit at the break if not for Fox’s performance. The senior scored 14 points in the first half, finished with a game-high 21 rebounds and 13 rebounds, and the Irish went into halftime with the game tied at 30-30.
“I was concerned with our lack of aggressiveness,” Barbour said. “The referees were rewarding the more aggressive team, because the fouls were seven to one . . . I expected us to come back, but when you play a team as good as that, you don’t know if you can get over that hump.”
Sacred Heart senior forward Taylor Johns had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Pratt was the only other Irish player to score in double figures with 13 points.
Sacred Heart advances to play Bishop Alemany of Mission Hills, the top seed in the Southern California bracket, in the state championship game and Barbour made his expectations clear to the Irish in the post-game press conference.
“I like the feeling of winning my last game,” Barbour said, before glaring at the Irish players. “With that being said, I hope I get that feeling again.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Joshua Fox – 21
Taylor Johns – 15
Herman Pratt – 13
Tyler Petroni – 5
Khalil James – 4
Marcus Green – 15
Terrence Daniel – 14
Richard Longrus – 8
Dominic Gomes – 7
Joshua Crum – 6