By Ray Hamill — The St. Bernard’s boys saved their best for last on Saturday night, coming from behind to defeat Valley Christian 61-58 in the North Coast Section Division-6 championship game in Eureka, and capping an impressive late season turnaround in the process.
Three weeks after losing the Little 4 championship to South Fork in heartbreaking fashion, the Crusaders are now section champs and will carry plenty of momentum and confidence into next week’s state playoffs.
Trailing for much of the game, the SB boys clearly fed off the energy from a noisy home crowd in what was a brilliant atmosphere, and because of that they were able to lift their play in the fourth quarter to secure the thrilling comeback.
“First off, I want to give a big thank you to our crowd,” head coach Issac Gildea said. “What a turnout! And our kids really respond to the type of energy the crowd brought tonight.”
A loud and enthusiastic arena was a sharp contrast to the empty gymnasiums and limited attendances we witnessed for much of the H-DNL season, and clearly the student section fed off the play on the court as much as the players fed off the atmosphere.
Senior Aidan Dorsch was instrumental in the victory and the late rally, scoring 10 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter.
“Aidan Dorsch was just magnificent,” Gildea said. “We call him ‘Big Body’ when he gets in that mode.”
Aaiden Burris also had a huge impact, hitting some timely shots to give his team a boost and he also finished with a team-high 17 points.
The Crusaders trailed by five at halftime, but found their groove after the interval and outscored the visitors in each of the final two quarters, coming into the final period just three points adrift.
The ever-dangerous Drew Vizenor added 12 points in the win, while Peyton Smith and Owen Shanahan each chipped in six points and Demetrius Rawson had three.
Gildea also praised the contribution of his bench players, who matched the crowd for energy.
“It was a team win,” he said.
It was also a gratifying victory for a team that has had to overcome plenty of adversity this winter and a spell where they lost three of four games in early January.
“We sacrificed so much this year, and it was up and down,” Gildea said. “But we kept driving and kept pushing through, and sharing something like this together is something that might never happen again for these players.”
The South Fork loss also served as a motivator heading into the playoffs.
“Losing to South Fork was an opportunity to get better, and what it really did was test our character,” Gildea said.
The NCS championship is the team’s first since 2015 and the Crusaders’ fifth all-time, giving them one more than both Hoopa and Ferndale and making them the most successful H-DNL boys team in NCS basketball.
The win lifts the Crusaders to 21-8 on the season and they will now turn their attention to next week’s state playoffs.
The seeds and brackets for the NorCal tournament will be announced on Sunday.