AZUSA – For the third year in a row, the Santa Clarita Christian School boys basketball team reached a CIF-Southern Section championship game. In the latest matchup, on Saturday, the Cardinals and St. Francis were the last two teams standing in Division 2AA at Azusa Pacific University on Saturday.
From the opening tip, the Cardinals’ length bothered the Golden Knights, but it was their unselfishness and firepower that outmatched the Golden Knights in a 61-39 victory. With the win, the Cardinals have won two CIF-SS titles in three seasons.
“I’m just really proud of this group. All year long they have been coachable,” said SCCS head coach James Mosley. “Our focus has always been to approach the game of basketball in a way that honors what we are about. We know it’s a simple game, but we really put a lot into it and really embrace the process.”
Four SCCS players finished in double-digit scoring – Josh O’Garro (17 points, seven rebounds), Kaleb Lowery (13 points, 11 rebounds), Ty Harper (10 points) and Tiago Soares (10 points).
St. Francis, on the other hand, only had two players in double-digit figures and had trouble scoring all day long. Andre Henry had a game-high 21 points and Jason Gallant finished with 13.
SCCS (24-5 overall) forced Henry, St. Francis’ leading scorer and best all-around player, to turn the ball over on the Golden Knights first possession. It was just the beginning of a tough outing for the UC Irvine-bound guard.
The Cardinals began the game switching everything with O’Garro and Caden Starr tagged to shadow Henry. It worked as St. Francis fell behind 12-4 with 2:20 left in the first after a pair of Lowery and Starr buckets.
That didn’t stop the Golden Knights from crashing the offensive boards to finish with three offensive rebounds in the first quarter, but the team couldn’t convert the second-chance opportunities.
The Cardinals’ Ty Harper and Lowery got in on the scoring as Harper drove into the lane, got fouled and converted 3-of-4 free-throws, while Lowery used his length to crash the boards and scored five of his 13 points in the quarter.
“Honestly, it’s not all me,” Lowery said. “It’s on all my teammates. The way they shared the ball and being unselfish allowed me to score. Every game, different players show up. Obviously, today it was me through the help of these guys.”
After a Soares offensive rebound and putback, the Cardinals led, 23-11, with under two minutes remaining and a 27-13 lead at the half.
The Cardinals held the Golden Knights to eight points in the first quarter and five points in the second, something that they could not shake all game long. Henry finished the first half shooting 3-of-7 from the field with six points.
“We knew we had a lot of long, athletic defenders and we knew they were a great shooting team so we really focused on trying to keep them out of the paint,” Mosley said. “Those windows for the shooter were really small. For us, I thought we did a great job. Josh did a great job on Henry and making him work for what he got. We knew he would score and get some stuff, but we wanted to make him finish over our size inside the paint.”
Lowery went to work inside the paint to start the second half, scoring seven of his 13 points in the game with physical play and forced St. Francis’ Evan Jernegan and Gallant to pick up their third and fourth fouls, respectively, at about the halfway mark.
O’Garro hit a pair of threes to extend the SCCS lead to 49-26 to open up the final frame. Henry made one final gasp and got the Golden Knights within 18 points of the Cardinals, but the lead was too great and succumbed.
“They were really tough and physical,” said St. Francis head coach Todd Wolfson. “There’s a lot of good teams out there, there’s a lot of talented teams and then there’s teams that are talented and well-coached and Santa Clarita Christian is talented and well-coached so that made it a tough challenge for us today.”