Know Thine Enemy: Mater Dei Monarchs

Southern California champion Santa Ana-Mater Dei is St. Mary's CIF State Open Division finals opponent at 6 p.m. Saturday at Cal's Haas Pavilion in Berkeley. (PHOTO FROM ESPN.COM)

St. Mary’s girls basketball, the No. 1 seed in the state and the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Open Division champion, faces who it’s wanted all year — Southern California champion Santa Ana-Mater Dei.

The Rams (33-1) and Monarchs (31-2) play for the CIF State Open Division title at 6 p.m. Saturday at Cal’s Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.

St. Mary’s coach Tom Gonsalves stated Saturday that he’s thought Mater Dei is the best team in the country all year. And, he added, he thinks his group is pretty good, too. My “Know Thine Enemy” blog returns to break down Mater Dei.


Record: 31-2, 8-0 Trinity League

2014-15 Resume: Trinity League champions, lost to West Hills-Chaminade in Southern Section Open Division championship game.

Playoff History: Mater Dei has four CIF State championships, in 1996 and three consecutive banners from 2010-12. The Monarchs also have five Southern California championships, including ’95 when they lost the state title game.

Head-to-head: Mater Dei is 2-0 against St. Mary’s the past decade, winning 81-72 on Dec. 30, 2013, and 66-60 on Dec. 22, 2009. In the most recent matchup, current Rams Mi’Cole Cayton, Carlissa Shipp, Angel Johnson, Sydney Fadal, Sierra Smith, Kat Tudor and Naje Murray all played.

Key Player: No. 33 Katie Lou Samuelson (6-foot-3 forward, Sr.) — Samuelson, a UConn commit and the Gatorade CIF State Girls Player of the Year, is the top-rated senior in the country, and will be the ultimate test for the Rams’ phenomenal freshman in 6-2 Aquira DeCosta.


My thoughts on Mater Dei: I caught a brief glimpse of the Monarchs at St. Mary’s MLK Showcase in January. When Samuelson is struggling to shoot or briefly off the court, they certainly look mortal, but if she’s on her game Saturday it’ll be difficult for DeCosta and company. It may be Mater Dei’s year, having experienced that painful loss to Chaminade in the section playoffs to drive them. Yet, for a team with mostly freshmen, sophomores and juniors, the Rams play with an incredible confidence and experience. Look for the junior Angel Johnson to help double-team Samuelson and try and make other Monarchs beat them. Plus, with St. Mary’s press, there ain’t much time for halfcourt offense, anyway.


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BREAKING: Bear Creek boys, girls basketball coaches Cortes, Lowrey dismissed Thursday

Bear Creek boys and girls basketball head coaches Rod Cortes and Jason Lowrey were dismissed March 12, they both said.

Cortes and Lowrey were given the news by Bruins athletic director Anthony Sahyoun, they said. In two seasons as head coach, Cortes’ teams went a combined 42-15, a winning percentage of .737, winning the 2014-15 co-San Joaquin Athletic Association championship with Chavez.

He began at Bear Creek 11 years ago as an assistant and worked his way up. Cortes doesn’t work at Bear Creek – he’s a pharmacy technician for the state – but got a call from Sahyoun to visit the school March 12. That’s when he was given the news.

Sahyoun said in a text message that he cannot comment on personnel matters at this time. Allen Dosty, the Bear Creek assistant principal who oversees athletics, has not been reached for comment.

Lowrey, 40, was given a similar message. He said he didn’t have much time to react, given he works in school security at Bear Creek and was “on the clock.”

“The only answer I got was they wanted to go in a different direction, and that was it. It was a shock to me and I know it was a shock to Rod. It’s not the end of the world, but just disappointed,” Lowrey said.

Lowrey spent a seven years at Lodi High – five coaching freshman boys, two coaching sophomore girls – and the 2011-12 season as a varsity assistant at McNair before earning the Bear Creek gig. In three seasons under Lowrey, the Bruins went 62-22, a winning percentage of .738.

This season, Bear Creek won the first league title in the program’s history.

Lowrey added, though, that he respects the difficult decisions Bear Creek administrators have to make, and that those like Sahyoun don’t have it easy.

“It’s hard for me, because like Anthony, I also work at the school,” he said. “I respect the fact that they have a difficult job and they have to make difficult decisions every day. This is definitely a shock to both of us.”



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NorCal Basketball Primer: Tonight’s Semifinals

Sierra junior guard Daniel Wyatt, 4, extends to the basket in his team's CIF NorCal Division III boys basketball quarterfinal against San Francisco-Riordan Saturday in Manteca. Sierra won 65-57 and plays at Moraga-Campolindo today. (CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD)

It continues to be an astonishingly good postseason for Stockton and San Joaquin County basketball. Thirteen percent, that’s 5 of 40 teams, left in the CIF NorCal semifinals for Divisions I-V are from San Joaquin County: Brookside Christian boys and girls, St. Mary’s boys and girls and Sierra boys.

All of them have a shot at winning, though four of those five, excluding the St. Mary’s girls, must do so on the road.

Here’s a brief look at each game.

I’ll be at St. Mary’s-Sac High boys updating live on Twitter. Record correspondent Kevin Niendorf is covering the San Francisco-Sacred Heart Cathedral at St. Mary’s girls game at Delta College. And The Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa is kind enough to send us a story from the Brookside Christian at Santa Rosa-Cardinal Newman girls game.


Division II

No. 4 St. Mary’s (23-8) at No. 1 Sacramento (27-5), 7 p.m.

The visiting Rams and Dragons have a major thing in common: they both fell to Modesto Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. II bracket.

St. Mary’s, though, played great offensive basketball in discarding fifth-seeded Dublin 83-72 in the quarterfinals. How about junior Evan Madill, who dazzled Morelli Gym for a career-high 31 points via seven 3-pointers? This team has been hinged on seniors in point guard Devin Williams and forward Lance Coleman II for its offensive production. If Madill is clicking on that level, an upset could be brewing.

Division III

No. 3 Sierra (30-2) at No. 2 Moraga-Campolindo (27-6), 7 p.m.

The Timberwolves have already made program history. Sierra won its first Sac-Joaquin Section title, after its fourth consecutive Valley Oak League crown and 15th-year coach Scott Thomason’s sixth, as well as its first state playoff game, 65-57 over San Francisco-Riordan Saturday.

Campolindo, though granted it was three years ago when last I saw them, is a great program that can have a very polished look for a high school team. Sierra was an underdog when it beat Fairfield-Vanden in OT in the section semifinals, though, so it’s comfortable in this role too.

Division V

No. 4 Brookside Christian (25-4) at No. 1 San Francisco-Stuart Hall  (30-3) at Kezar Pavilion, 7:30 p.m.

The Knights are playing with house money after winning their first section title since 1998, when coach Adam Lichter was in seventh grade. Seniors Kameron Vales and Kenyon Williams are offensive forces and potent leaders, and junior transfer Derek Burgess is an underrated player and double-double threat.


Open Division

No. 4 San Francisco-Sacred Heart Cathedral (18-10) at No. 1 St. Mary’s (31-1) at Delta College, 7 p.m.

The Rams are seven-time CIF State champions, but never in the vaunted Open Division. Sophomore Naje Murray has been tough to guard in her increased role late in the year, scoring a team-high 15 points in beating Modesto Christian in Friday’s quarterfinal.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing in Sacred Heart Cathedral’s favor? Well, besides being a perennial power and one of the top teams in the state, its mascot is the Fightin’ Irish, and it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Keep that in mind.

Division IV

No. 4 Brookside Christian (25-3) at No. 1 Santa Rosa-Cardinal Newman (26-6), 6 p.m.

The Knights were absolutely devastated when they lost the Div. IV section title game to Sacramento-Bradshaw Christian March 7.

And since, Brookside Christian has hammered Napa-Justin Siena and Dixon in the NorCal Div. IV bracket. Junior Aarion McDonald is averaging an astounding 27 points, 11 rebounds, nine steals and seven assists in six playoff games as a Knight.

Brookside Christian won the state championship in 2012, and is a win away from Saturday’s NorCal finals at American Canyon High.


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Now It Matters: Pacific Baseball Enters WCC Play

Pacific third baseman J.J. Wagner connects for a triple against Cal Poly Sunday at Klein Family FIeld. (CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD)

Battered,  bruised, and probably better, Pacific baseball emerges from the preseason at 1-14. It wasn’t just any preseason. The Tigers played four series and a single game against NCAA Regional playoff teams from a year ago: Washington, UNLV, Nevada, Cal Poly and California.

Of those, the Tigers took a single home game against Cal Poly.

The bad news is, while Pacific has struggled across the board, the biggest bane has been defensive miscues. The Tigers have committed 37 errors in 15 games (about two-and-a-half per contest), and many of those have contributed to big innings for an opponent.

It’s also been a tough run for Pacific’s starting rotation, albeit against some potent batting orders, as the pitching staff in its entirety has a 6.44 earned run average. Only senior Michael Benson, who made the one spot start this year, against Cal Poly, has a win.

The good news is, Pacific has shown offensive promise. Three consistent starters in third baseman J.J. Wagner (.358, 5 RBI), Louis Mejia (.349, 3 RBI) and Tyler Sullivan (.339, 6 RBI, 7 BB) are batting above .300. Justin Thaxton, a freshman, is hitting .316 with two doubles in a more limited role.

And how about the true power source from true freshman Jed Sprague. Jed — son of coach Ed Sprague — leads the team with four long bombs.

Pacific heads to Moraga to play Saint Mary’s (7-5), a team with a better record certainly, but one whose preseason schedule is nowhere near as difficult as the Tigers’. Saint Mary’s can rake, though, as the Gaels are batting .320 as a team, 12th best in the nation.

The Tigers and Gaels begin their three-game series at 3 p.m. Friday.


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Girls Basketball All-Area Player of the Year Watchlist

St. Mary's freshman Aquira DeCosta (left) lifts for a layup against McClatchy during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. (CRAIG SANDERS/THE RECORD)

AARION MCDONALD (Brookside Christian G, Jr.)

Even in defeat, the Washington verbal commit McDonald proved an incredible competitor. McDonald posted 38 points and 16 rebounds in Brookside Christian’s  74-62 loss to Sacramento-Bradshaw Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.

She’s not just a double-double, but a triple-double machine, and drives to the basket as if she’s 6-foot-5, not 5-6.

AQUIRA DECOSTA (St. Mary’s F, Fr.)

It would be easy for DeCosta, though 6-2 and the No. 2-rated freshman in the nation, to feel nervous in the limelight of an NBA venue. Especially, with a nagging knee problem. No, DeCosta was superb, posting 24 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks as St. Mary’s hammered Sacramento-McClatchy 78-55 in the Div. I final Saturday.

RAZIYA POTTER (Kimball F, Fr.)

Potter certainly doesn’t look like a freshman, as the forward, around 6-1, is key to the 30-1 Jaguars’ interior offense and defense. Kimball needs Potter — who fouled out of the Jaguars’ 68-31 Div. II championship loss to Modesto Christian — to stay on the floor for the NorCal playoffs. Potter and sophomore Donwanae Anthony are both worth consideration for this spot.

KAT TUDOR (St. Mary’s G, Jr.)

Tudor, who’s received recruiting attention from across the Pac-12, has recovered from a slow start (for her) to become phenomenal from beyond the 3-point line. She’s shot 55 percent (12 from 22) from 3 in the playoffs and 45 percent across the season, and utilizes her long wingspan to help deflect passes and create havoc in the Rams’ press. While she’s known for 3-point shooting, she’s also improved at finishing at the basket in transition.

RA’KYRA GABRIEL (Brookside Christian F, Sr.)

Another fantastic season for Gabriel, a four-year varsity player for the Knights, should not be understated. She averages 11 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. She and fellow senior Ariana Vaughn have done a great job meshing with and playing unselfish basketball with McDonald, who has the ball most of the time. Not in a selfish way, but she is the force behind that offense.

Gabriel, whose Knights host a NorCal game Wednesday against Napa-Justin-Siena, has amassed 1,324 points, 930 rebounds and 299 blocks in her career. It’s a shame she probably won’t be able to reach the 1,000-rebound milestone, but 930 is an incredible number as is.

MI’COLE CAYTON (St. Mary’s G, Jr.)

On a ferocious team, Cayton might be the most intense Ram of all. The junior guard averages 12 points, three rebounds, and three steals, and her presence in the open court and driving to the basket is undeniable.

She’s got a gnarly — though perhaps mostly in pain, as she’s active — elbow injury, yet played some solid minutes against McClatchy Saturday, even scoring four points through what appeared to be some agony.


Ariana Vaughn, Brookside Christian

Donwanae Anthony, Kimball

Elisabeth Alexander, Weston Ranch

Zahria Hendrix, Lincoln

Carly Tillema, Ripon Christian

Naje Murray, St.  Mary’s

Precious Younger, Bear Creek

Olivia Vezaldenos, East Union

Sierra Smith, St. Mary’s


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Boys Basketball All-Area Player of the Year Watchlist

St. Mary's senior Lance Coleman II (left) rises up to block a shot against Modesto Christian in last Tuesday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. (CRAIG SANDERS/THE RECORD)

One of my favorite parts of The Record’s All-Area high school awards, is we’re not the MLB, NBA or NFL press. We most certainly include postseason performance and clutch moments into consideration. With that in mind, here’s my latest All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year Watchlist, focusing on a handful, and with a few more names to keep in mind.

These are not done in any particular order. Those who are more closely examined are still in the postseason. You’ll notice names that have been consistently on this list, and are now in the lower section. This is only a distinction from the teams in the playoffs, it’s not saying they’re out of the running.

Let’s take a look:

LANCE COLEMAN II (St. Mary’s G/F, Sr.)

Coleman II is key, as always, as No. 4 St. Mary’s hosts No. 5 Dublin in a NorCal Div. II quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Saturday at Morelli Gym. He paced the Rams with 20 points in the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. II quarterfinal win over Antelope, and again with 13 in the loss to Modesto Christian in the semis at Sleep Train Arena.

He and the Rams are at their best when Coleman II is not only scoring, but making plays with his length on defense and whipping the ball around from the high post or after driving into the paint.


Patton is the kind of player who, just when you’ve think he’s peaked, finds another speed to add to his already impressive high school resume. The 6-foot-8 senior fulfilled a two-year old promise to his coaching staff, leading Sierra to its first-ever section championship with a whopping 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks in a 67-51 win over Weston Ranch Friday night.

He and the Timberwolves will try and make history again, as they look for the program’s first state playoff win, in a 6 p.m. home game Saturday.


Johnson hasn’t been talked about nearly enough, perhaps because Patton has been on varsity for longer and is headed to Sacramento State to play basketball, but he’s vital for the Timberwolves. Johnson is a double-double machine, and although Sierra doesn’t post stats on MaxPreps, his would surely be impressive.

ANAND HUNDAL (Manteca F/C, Jr.)

A healthy Hundal is the best way for No. 13 Manteca to stand a chance at fourth-seeded Palo Cedro-Foothill in tomorrow’s NorCal game up north. The 6-8 junior is the second-leading shot blocker in the state of California, and has an ever-improving array of post moves and a mid-range game.

JAELEN RAGSDALE (Weston Ranch G, Jr.)

Ragsdale has been the man for the Cougars in the playoffs, averaging 19 points in four section games, and is a huge reason why Weston Ranch earned the 8 seed and a home game in the NorCal Div. III bracket. The most fun time to watch him is when Weston Ranch has the ball with a quarter about to end, he can score even when the defense knows it is indeed him who’s shooting.

DAVID LERMA (Elliot Christian G, Sr.)

Lerma and Brookside Christian’s Williams need to be here, they are both legitimate talents who back their numbers, even if they are from smaller-school programs. The senior Lerma has an unbelievable 3-point touch, even when double-teamed, and scored 31 points in the section title game loss to Brookside Christian.

KENYON WILLIAMS (Brookside Christian G, Sr.)

Williams is fast, he can dish, he can shoot, and he could be an underrated college prospect. He dropped 26 points and 10 rebounds in the championship win, and has well over 1,000 points in his career. Senior Kameron Vales could easily deserve this spot, too.

NOTE: All photos here are via The Record’s photography staff and contributors, including Clifford Oto, Calixtro Romias and Craig Sanders.


Kameron Vales, Brookside Christian

Devin Williams, St. Mary’s

Fred Lavender, Weston Ranch

Druce Asah, Tracy

Andre Green, Bear Creek

Lewis Hayes, Chavez


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Gameday Preview: Kimball, St. Mary’s Girls on Championship Stage


Kimball girls basketball is 30-0 heading into today's Sac-Joaquin Section Division II final with Modesto Christian. (CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD)

To talk about two by u1506″ href=”#”>programs with different histories heading into Sac-Joaquin Section basketball championship Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, go no further than Kimball and St. Mary’s.

The Jaguars (31-0) were an abysmal 1-26 in their inaugural season of 2010-11, but under the guidance of coach Miguel Granillo, who’s been there through all of it, they’re unbeaten and 32 minutes from a Div. II title. Kimball faces Modesto Christian at 1 p.m., the reigning CIF State Div. III champion with a loaded roster, and thus, championship experience.

Kimball will struggle to keep up with Modesto Christian, and has to set its own tempo. Freshman Raziya Potter and sophomore Donwanae Anthony must be the focal point at forward, getting the Crusaders into foul trouble and making this a half court game.

Seniors Allie Schmidt and Sarah Nunes must shut down, or at least stifle, Modesto Christian’s wealth of scorers. This is a Crusader team that scored 66 points against St. Mary’s, and that’s no joke.


Speaking of St. Mary’s (29-1), the Rams are fighting for their eighth consecutive section championship and 16th in their history, battling Sacramento-McClatchy at 6:30 p.m. in Div. I. It’s a great matchup, as St. Mary’s is No. 3 in USA Today’s poll and McClatchy is a bubble team in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings.

McClatchy features a familiar face in assistant Que Ngo, Brookside Christian’s former head coach who won three section and one state title with the Knights. As Joe Davidson of The Sacramento Bee wrote in a small headline, “Ngo knows championships.”

An X-Factor today is St. Mary’s healthy, as 6-foot-2 freshman Aquira DeCosta, the No. 2-rated freshman in the country, is questionable with a knee injury. Junior guard Mi’Cole Cayton, one of the Rams’ all-around threats, is questionable with an elbow injury.


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Brookside Christian girls, Elliot Christian boys on to section finals


It was a great night for small-school basketball in Stockton and Lodi. And that included No. 1 Brookside Christian girls basketball’s 68-41 win over No. 4 Dixon in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal at Tokay, and No. 4 Elliot Christian boys basketball’s 56-41 victory over No. 8 Auburn-Forest Lake Christian in a Div. V semifinal at Galt.

Brookside Christian was led by junior Aarion McDonald, a verbal commit to the University of Washington, who posted 26 points, six steals and five assists. Senior Ariana Vaughn, a Pacific-bound forward, dropped a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double. Ra’kyra Gabriel, a Florida Atlantic University-bound senior, posted 17 points and 10 boards for a double-double of her own.

The Knights play No. 2 Sacramento-Bradshaw Christian at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.

Elliot Christian, which faces Central California Athletic Alliance rival Brookside Christian at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Sleep Train Arena, ended Forest Lake Christian’s Cinderella run. David Lerma powered the Eagles with 29 points, shooting 11 of 15 from the field: a clip of 73 percent.

It’s the second time Lerma has played in a section championship game this year. He was a key member of the Elliot Christian football team that was a Div. VII runner up to Merced-Stone Ridge Christian.


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All-Access: Traveling with St. Mary’s Boys Basketball to Sleep Train Arena

The St. Mary's bench was disappointed by Wednesday's result, but its journey to Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento was a rare one. (CRAIG SANDERS/THE RECORD)

As the St. Mary’s boys basketball motorcade (okay, a handful of vans and SUVs) drove into Sacramento and neared Sleep Train Arena, the home of the Kings, it was obvious the pressure wasn’t getting to the Rams.

“You think all of us could ghost ride this van?” one player asked. “What, into the arena?” another said. To be clear, “ghost riding” is when a driver exits a moving vehicle and starts dancing around it. Obviously, a joke, but a funny one given the pressure St. Mary’s was under.

Sure enough, St. Mary’s showed up soon after — with assistant coach “Scooter” safely driving our SUV whilst in the vehicle — to soak in playing at an NBA venue as high school competitors. Along the way, St. Mary’s had been loose, looking out the window and reflecting on how James Harden finishes his jump shots.

One player said he’s been to Sleep Train a couple times, to see the Kings play the Milwaukee Bucks, and another to see a monster truck derby.

After St. Mary’s players and staff convened, and waded through a slow check-in process, along with opponent Modesto Christian, as all bags were checked (yes, including my laptop bag, reporters don’t get special treatment), they started meandering to their “locker room.”

I put “locker room” in quotes because it’s obviously a training room the Kings use for the high school teams every March, but it makes sense.

A Sac-Joaquin Section official led us through the hallways, through the underbelly of the arena. That’s where the players’ interest started to perk up, as one Ram said he could just envision Allen Iverson walking through there in his prime.

Down there, en route to the dressing room and the court, it had a dark, warehouse kind of feel like the bottom of most professional sports arenas do. At least… the two I’ve been to: Sleep Train Arena and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

There were vending machines, backboards with rims and nets and spare arena seats.

Near the dressing room loomed the walkway into the court. Rams coach Ken Green had called Sleep Train “cavernous” this week, and you could see why when you stand on the ground floor.

St. Mary’s slowly got ready, maybe lingering around a few more minutes than Green liked.

“They’ve got a tunnel over there where you guys can do some dynamic stretching. Yeah, you guys are doing dynamic sitting,” he said sarcastically.

So, St. Mary’s limbered up, filed out for some layup and shooting warmups, and returned to the dressing room for Green’s final, fiery-but-focused pregame speech.

St. Mary’s stuck with Modesto Christian, leading 23-22 at half before losing 59-46, overwhelmed by 6-foot-6 Pacific commit Anthony Townes, but it’s season is still alive. The Rams compete in the NorCal playoffs, which are seeded Sunday and begin Wednesday.

And, regardless, the Rams had a life experience that may never recur.

“It was great, it was like a dream,” St. Mary’s point guard Devin Williams said, “walking through the same tunnels that a player like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James has walked through.”


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Still Rolling: St. Mary’s Girls Dismantle Davis in Div. I semis

St. Mary’s girls basketball (29-1) hasn’t been beaten by a California-based team this season. And the No. 1 Rams hammered fourth-seeded Davis Sr. 86-48 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal Tuesday at Spanos Center.

St. Mary’s moves on to play No. 3 Sacramento-McClatchy — which has former Brookside Christian coach Que Ngo as an assistant — in the Div. I championship at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.

Freshman Aquira DeCosta paced St. Mary’s with 16 points as one of five Rams in double figures, and added six rebounds. Junior Angel Johnson added 13 points, senior Carlissa Shipp posted 11 points off the bench, and junior Kat Tudor and sophomore Naje Murray added 11 each.

Murray was in the starting lineup in lieu of junior guard Mi’Cole Cayton, who injured her elbow in the quarterfinal win over Sacramento-St. Francis, is out for this week’s games and questionable for the state playoffs.


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    Bob Highfill has been with The Record sports department since 1990. He started as a part-time reporter/agate clerk then covered the high school sports beat before taking on the Pacific athletics beat. In 2006, he was named sports editor. Bob was ... Read Full

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