BANNER BOYS: Woodcreek claims D1 title with 69-68 victory over Sheldon
STOCKTON — The weight of the Division I championship hung on the broad shoulders of 6-foot-10 national recruit Jordan Brown as he stepped to the line for two free throws.
Woodcreek’s junior center had just drawn a foul on the baseline as he made a move to the rim and time ticked down in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game. Sheldon’s Chris Wriedt blocked Brown’s path as he stepped in front of him and the whistle blew.
There wasn’t much contact above the waist, and some fans will argue the validity of the call, but it was enough to garner a whistle and a trip to the line.
“There was just so much adrenaline going through me,” Brown admitted. “I just had to focus, go back to the gym, shoot it and hit it.”
With his team trailing, 68-67, and just one-tenth of a second on the clock, Brown knocked down the first attempt and the Black Mob student section roared with excitement as he tied the game.
After a timeout, Brown stepped to the line again and thought back to a few wise words from his father.
“I’ve thought about (hitting those free throws) so many times, but I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen,” Brown acknowledged. “My dad always talked to me about it because in my freshman year we watched Ivan Rabb have to do the same thing (to win) state. That’s what was going through my mind — hit it, just like he did.”
Rabb led Bishop O'Dowd High School to the CIF Open Division state title in 2015 as he scored 19 points, grabbed 21 rebounds, blocked two shots and gave O’Dowd a one-point edge over Mater Dei with a last-second free throw.
Saturday’s ending was oddly similar as Brown came through in the clutch on the campus of U.O.P. and gave his team a 69-68 lead with one-tenth of a second left in regulation.
A last-gasp attempt from Sheldon went astray and the Timberwolves stormed the court to celebrate their narrow victory. Brown was quickly swarmed by his teammates, each one giving hugs and high-fives.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to come through for my team,” Brown said afterwards.
The pair of freebies from the charity stripe helped solidify a new defining prep moment in Brown’s legacy at Woodcreek — one of the only things lacking in his extensive resume.
“Jordan has played on two gold medal teams, he’s played in Spain, he’s played in Argentina, I mean he has played at the highest level under significant pressure, so I wasn’t worried when he went to the line,” Woodcreek’s coach Paul Hayes said.
Even though his star player was 7-of-13 from the line prior to those attempts, Hayes knew his squad was in good hands.
“He’s been poised since he stepped on the campus at 15-years-old,” the veteran coach added.
After knocking down his free throws, Brown wasted little time in finding his parents.
He high-five’d his dad and hugged his mom, who gave him a big smooch on the cheek. Then he proceeded to give high-fives to fans of all ages as they clapped and cheered for him.
All the while, Sheldon sauntered back to their side of the court, heads held low, tears in their eyes.
“I know it’s cliche, but you hate to see someone lose a game like that,” Hayes confessed. “I mean, another 10 seconds and they score, then another ten seconds and we score, that’s just a great high school basketball game.”
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Saturday’s victory gives Woodcreek its first Division I title in school history.
As a program, the Timberwolves have now won three blue banners in 2003, 2010 and now, 2017 as a part of the Sac-Joaquin Section. This year’s team also captured the school’s first undefeated league season in the Sierra Foothill League as they went 12-0.
For Sheldon, this was the second time in three years the Huskies have lost the championship game by one point. In 2015, Sheldon lost to Folsom, 50-49. Those two games remain the only two Division I championship games to be decided by one point.
Furthermore, the 69-68 final was also the smallest margin of victory for the Timberwolves this season.
Even though Woodcreek entered Saturday’s game as the lower seed, the Timberwolves stormed out of the gates to a 9-1 lead.
But Sheldon quickly caught up thanks to a 15-6 run in the second period.
“They came out here and were ready to play,” Jordan Brown confessed. “They really lived up to the hype of being rated number one, so we had to come out ready to (attack) them.”
Despite 12 points from senior Tyrell Roberts, the Timberwolves trailed by three at the break and Brown had three fouls, including an offensive charging call that came late in the second period and a double-foul on both sides earlier in the half.
Brown was forced to sit for most of the second quarter and he had just two points in the first 16 minutes of action as he went 0-for-3 from the floor.
But the T-Wolves didn’t panic.
“It’s happened before, but we’re deep and our kids were prepared for it,” Hayes explained. “We have several competitors on this team and they got after it.”
Thanks to nine-straight points from Roberts and a corner trey from Chris Cagle, the T-Wolves erased a 10-point Sheldon lead midway through the third period.
Roberts finished the game with a game-high 23 points as he knocked down 50-percent of his shots and tallied four triples.
“At that point, Jordan was out, so someone else had to pick up the slack,” Roberts pointed out. “We were down 10, and I started to see open looks and I took them. It’s just a matter of having confidence in my shot and just knocking them down.”
Sheldon converted a three-point play to end the third quarter and take a 51-48 lead into the final frame, but Brown was ready to get back on the floor.
It wasn’t much later when he made his first field goal attempt, which came an astonishing 24-plus minutes into the game.
“My team really stepped up when I was out of the game,” Brown acknowledged. “They hit 3s, hit shots, made the defensive plays we needed, got rebounds, (they) did a lot.”
Brown added four more points — two from free throws and another two on a put-back attempt — to give Woodcreek its first lead of the second half, 61-59, with less than four minutes to play.
Although Sheldon answered with seven-straight points, Woodcreek’s Jackson Hughes drained a fade-away 3 to cut the lead to two points, then earned a steal to set up another trey.
“We can shoot the ball — Delis (Boggs) was told to shoot, Chris (Cagle) can shoot — but sometimes we don’t get in position to do that,” Hayes explained. “I told them that they’re sagging on Jordan (Brown) so we need to look for the shot, and they knocked it down.”
Brown, Roberts and Hughes have soaked up the spotlight a lot this year, but Woodcreek has a handful of rotation players who made clutch shots in the biggest game of their careers to-date.
Junior forward Delis Boggs-Smith was one of those players.
The Timberwolves’ sixth man is the first off the bench most games for Hayes and he’s relied upon to rebound the basketball, shut down one of the other team’s top scorers and sometimes, he’s asked to assume point guard duties.
On Saturday, Boggs was asked to shoot, and he responded by registering the most-clutch shot of his prep career. He launched and sank a 3 from the left wing to give his team a 67-66 lead with less than a minute to play.
“Coach was telling me, ‘Just shoot it,’ because I was hesitant earlier,” Boggs recalled. “But when he told me to let it go, I let it go and I made a big-time shot.”
Boggs’ triple came with just 47.7 seconds left in regulation, but Sheldon had an answer. Although they were stuffed or turned away three separate times, the Huskies finally converted a layup as LJ Williams found the net to give his team a 68-67 lead with 8.7 seconds left.
That’s when Woodcreek went to Brown, and he delivered two clutch freebies to clinch the title.
Early indications suggest Woodcreek and Sheldon will be seeded one and two, respectively, going into the NorCal Tournament next week.
Each program will enter the CIF State Open Division and could square off again in the state finals if they get that far. Both squads should expect a pair of home games in the opening rounds before the semifinals and finals matches, which will be held at the beautifully-designed Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.
“It’s going to be fun if we meet them again,” Brown stated.
The Timberwolves will celebrate this weekend, but they’ll soon be back to work as they prep for their next task — winning a state championship.
“It feels so good,” Boggs admitted. “Everything we’ve worked for has paid off, but we’re not done yet. We still have state, and I’m looking forward to it.”