By Nick Woodward
For The Signal
SACRAMENTO – For 75 percent of the California Interscholastic Federation Division 5 State Championship game, the Argonaut High boys basketball team played to an even keel with fellow top seed Santa Clarita Christian.
The second quarter, though, sunk the ship.
The Cardinals outscored Argonaut 24-12 in the second, and those 12 points became the difference as the Mustangs fell 78-66 in the state title game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Saturday.
Adison Cramer went for a game-high 29 points and added 10 rebounds. Seth Tomczak had 12 points for Argonaut (29-6) and Jared Votaw had 11.
For Santa Clarita Christian (26-9), Justin Collins and Jordan Starr scored 21 points apiece, with Starr adding 10 assists and seven rebounds. Kaleb Lowery had 12 points, and Caden Starr had 11.
This state title matchup started in a predictable fashion. The Cardinals, armed with two 6-foot-7 forwards in the starting lineup and another listed at 6-9, had the upper hand in the paint.
“Our goal was to get inside early and create a rhythm,” Santa Clarita coach James Mosley said. “We wanted to have a lot of ball movement and I felt like we did a good job going downhill early.”
Santa Clarita Christian led 14-8 when Votaw hit the game’s first 3-pointer, and the opening quarter later ended with a 17-13 Cardinal lead. Cramer hit a floater to open the second, and Westleigh Kling added two free throws to tie the game.
Then, the game took a turn. Santa Clarita Christian rattled off an 8-0 run in a span of two minutes, only to be interrupted by Votaw’s second 3-pointer. But the Cardinals scored four straight after that, heading into halftime on the heels of a 24-8 tear for a 41-25 lead.
“They were going to the bucket, and we started helping a little more than we wanted to,” said Argonaut coach Jon Gilliam. “They’ve got 3-point shooters, and they made such good decisions.”
The lead was as large as 20 in the third quarter, but the Mustangs found their stroke. Led by Cramer, who sunk four 3-pointers on the night and went 9 for 10 from the free throw line, Argonaut climbed back into the game. And, just before time expired, Votaw’s third and final 3-pointer of the night drew the Mustangs to within 56-44.
“That’s not how we were going to go out,” Cramer said. “With the season we’ve had, the teams we’ve beat and the team we’ve lost to, we weren’t going to lose by 20 in the state championship game.”
Santa Clarita Christian’s lead dipped to nine at multiple points in the fourth quarter, but never below that mark. Argonaut was hitting shots. But so were the Cardinals, and time was winding down.
Down 72-61 with 1 minute, 18 seconds to play, Argonaut had to resort to putting the Cardinals on the line, and hoping for both a miss and a quick bucket on their end. The lead didn’t dwindle, and Gilliam pulled his starters with 26 seconds to play, waving the white flag.
The CIF finale marks the end of a historic run for SCCS, who took home their first-ever state title with the win.
“We wanted to do something special,” Mosley said. “We wanted to challenge ourselves and do something that maybe we couldn’t do every year. That was our focus.”