The Crusaders took their second-half heroics to new heights on Thursday night, as they made a little bit of H-DNL history.
Trailing by seven points at halftime of the NorCal Division-VI championship game at Weed, the St. Bernard’s boys came out in the second half and thoroughly dominated the No. 1 seeds on the way to a well-deserved 48-34 win.
The victory caps a memorable season for the Crusaders, who became the first-ever H-DNL boys team to win North Coast Section and NorCal championships in the same year.
The CIF does not hold a Division-VI state championship game as it does in the other divisions, but the Crusaders will go down as the last D-VI team standing in state play as there is no SoCal championship in the division.
“It was the first time an H-DNL team has won an NCS and state title,” head coach Issac Gildea said. “I’m going to say state title, I don’t want to minimize that, we were the last (Division-VI) team in the state standing. No one can take that from our school. We’re going to have that forever.”
The SB boys found themselves trailing after the interval for the third time in their last four games, but once again they saved their best for last with a huge second-half performance.
Remarkably, the Crusaders held the home team to just five points over the final two quarters, two of which came from the free-throw line.
The victory was the second straight on the road against a higher seed, after the No. 3 Crusaders also rallied from an 11-point deficit on the way to winning their semifinal at No. 2 Redding Christian on Saturday night.
And they did it with another strong performance from several players.
“From top to bottom, what a resilient team all season,” Gildea said. “They know what it takes to win. All of my guys are winners.”
The Crusaders dominated in the paint in the second half, and the Cougars had no answer as players like Owen Shanahan, Aidan Dorsch and Drew Vizenor began to take control of the game.
“We wanted to turn the ball over less and we wanted to rebound the ball more, and we did that,” Gildea said of the second half. “It was like a wall. They were not used to our length and that really helped us in the second half.”
Shanahan had seven blocks in the second half, according to the coach, while Dorsch and Vizenor had three each.
“Every point we really contested,” Gildea said. “We came together as a group and really wanted it, and got the job done.”
It didn’t take the Crusaders long to close the deficit in the second half and they tied the game on a Vizenor basket a few minutes in, before back-to-back Aaiden Burris baskets gave them a lead they would not relinquish.
Burris scored a game-high 18 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, when he went 5-for-5 from the free-throw line.
Vizenor added 14 points, while Dorsch scored six, Shanahan and Peyton Smith four each, and Seth Dyer two.
Once again, a large crowd of traveling supporters played their part in the outcome, as they did in Saturday’s semifinal.
“To say it was electric is an understatement,” the coach said of the atmosphere. “It was crazy in that gym. What crowd support.”
Gildea also credited the support of the school administration and principal Paul Shanahan for all they have done to help the team on its historic journey.
“What an amazing school,” he said.
The NorCal championship, which was achieved in Gildea’s first full season in charge of the program, is the second for the St. Bernard’s boys, who also won in 2016 under former head coach Steve Thrap, and it is just third all-time for H-DNL boys teams, with Hoopa also winning in 2000.
The St. Bernard’s girls also have two NorCal championships (2015 and 2016).
The loss was just the fourth on the season for Weed, which closes out 20-4, while St. Bernard’s closes out 24-8.