Basketball

NCS champions St. Bernard’s make it look easy

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Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com – The St. Bernard’s girls celebrate their NCS championship on Saturday.

By Ray Hamill — It was a fitting performance for a championship team.

And it all had a very familiar feel to it.

On Saturday night the St. Bernard’s girls dominated Cloverdale in the Division-V North Coast Section championship game, pulling away for a 56-36 win at St. Bernard’s.

The championship was the fourth in five years for the program, which was making a seventh straight NCS championship game appearance.

And it was achieved with one of the Crusaders’ best team performances of the season.

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St. Bernard’s Mackenzie Finck

“I’m just so proud of the girls,” a delighted head coach Mark Gardner said afterwards. “They really executed the game plan so well, and all of them played well.”

The Crusaders were led, as always, by the three senior co-captains, Jasa Sisemore, Emily Gardner and Maddie Costa, but got substantial contributions from a number of others, including juniors Mackenzie Finck and Josie Peterson.

Setting the tempo early

A very good Eagles team came into the game riding a 19-game winning streak, but was outmatched from the get-go, trailing for all but a few seconds of the game.

The Crusaders, who were seeded No. 1, set the tone from the opening tip-off, which was won by Gardner, who immediately passed to set up a streaking Sisemore, who gave her team the lead with an easy layup.

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Seniors Sarah Regli, Jasa Sisemore Emily Gardner and Maddie Costa celebrate along with head coach Mark Gardner.

The No. 2 seed Eagles led 4-3 briefly a little over two minutes in, but the home team then went on a 25-4 run to take complete control of the game and end it as a contest well before halftime.

This was most definitely a very impressive showing by a team that came prepared and ready to play, and a team that made a very good Cloverdale roster look very ordinary.

Offensively, the Crusaders did much as they pleased, especially late in the first quarter and early in the second, on the way to opening up a 28-8 lead.

It was 31-13 at halftime.

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Jasa Sisemore moves the ball up court.

But if the offense was impressive, the defense was every bit as much so, holding an Eagles team that had averaged 56.5 points a game to just 21 through the opening three quarters.

At that stage they trailed by 21.

Defensively, the Crusaders have held their four playoff opponents to single digits in points in all but three of their 16 postseason quarters.

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Containing Bird

Gardner did a very good job inside defending Cloverdale standout Tehya Bird, who scored 24 points in Wednesday’s semifinal win but was held to 14 on Saturday, just six of them from play.

Sisemore led the Crusaders with 17 points, turning in another outstanding all-around performance, while Gardner had 13 points.

The Eagles, who are a good defensive team, had no consistent answer for the St. Bernard’s senior post player.

Costa added 12 points, including three big 3-pointers.

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Maddie Costa defends on a play.

The championship is the fifth all-time for the program, which has won the past two (2017 and 2019) in Division V, after moving up from Division VI, where they won in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s to the girls’ credit,” Mark Gardner said. “They’re the ones that put in the work and perform on the court. They deserve every award, banner and trophy they get.”

With the win, St. Bernard’s improves to 23-6 on the season, while Cloverdale drops to 25-5.

Both teams will now move on to next week’s NorCal tournament, which gets under way on Tuesday.

The NorCal brackets will be announced on Sunday.

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