By Ray Hamill — The St. Bernard’s Crusaders are back in familiar territory.
On Saturday, the Little 4 champions and No. 1 seeds for the Division-V playoffs will play in a seventh consecutive North Coast Section championship game in girls basketball, a remarkable level of consistency for the program.
In that time, they have a record of 20-3 in the playoffs and have been seeded either No. 1 or 2 in all seven years.
A win over No. 2 seed Cloverdale at St. Bernard’s on Saturday would also give the Crusaders a fourth title in five years.
It won’t, however, be easy.
Plenty of momentum
Both teams will carry plenty of momentum into the clash.
The Eagles, who rely heavily on junior forward Tehya Bird, have won 19 straight, including a 51-38 win over No. 3 seed Rincon Valley Christian in Wednesday’s semifinal.
Bird scored 24 points in that win, as the Eagles nailed six 3-pointers on the way to improving to 25-4 on the season.
They finished The North Central League-I with a perfect 14-0 record, and are known for playing stellar defense, allowing just 37.3 points a game.
But while the Crusaders have enjoyed plenty of NCS success in recent years, the same cannot be said of the Eagles, who are looking for the program’s first section crown since winning five in a seven-year period between 1978 and 1984.
Standing in their way are the favored Crusaders, who have both momentum and experience coming into the game.
The St. Bernard’s girls are 22-6 and have won 17 of their last 19 games, with the only two losses in that spell coming against Division-III semifinalists Eureka.
They wrapped up a sixth straight conference title last month, and are led by a trio of standout seniors, each of whom has been playing at a high level all season, and each of whom seem to complement each other perfectly.
Emily Gardner has been a presence inside the paint for the Crusaders for four years now, surpassing the 1,000 career points earlier in the season.
Jasa Sisemore is one of the most athletic players in the H-DNL and has been a consistently reliable threat at both ends of the court all winter.
While point guard Maddie Costa has done a stellar job directing traffic at one end and adding a tenacious defensive presence at the other.
Add to that the ever-growing influence of juniors Josie Peterson, Marayah Tomlinson, Mackenzie Finck and Shelby Jordan, and head coach Mark Gardner has plenty of balance at his disposal.
Defensively, the Crusaders have stepped up their game in the postseason, allowing just 82 points in the three games, which included a hard-fought 38-35 win over No. 4 University in Wednesday’s semifinal.
They have held their opponents to single digits in scoring in 10 of the 12 quarters.
The Eagles have been almost as dominating on the defensive end, allowing just 86 points in their three games.
Saturday’s tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on 95.1 and 106.7 FM. with the pregame show getting under way at 6:45.