National power Salesian of Richmond came to Sacramento Saturday night looking for a competitive game against Bee No. 1 Sheldon.
The Pride got that and more, needing a dramatic comeback late, led by their outstanding 6-foot-6 junior Jabari Bird, to post a 63-61 win in front of another packed crowd at Sheldon.
Trailing 57-54 with two minutes to play, Salesian went on a 9-1 run to go up 63-58 before Sheldon's Kyi Thomas hit a three-pointer with 6.6 seconds. But the Huskies couldn't corral a Salesian missed free throw with 4.7 seconds as the Pride ran out the clock.
Thomas, who had the game-winning tip-in the night before in a 71-70 win over No. 2 Jesuit, was brilliant again.
The 6-foot-4 senior finished with 22 points, hitting six three-pointers, and also grabbed four rebounds. Sheldon's star juniors Dakarai Allen and D'Erryl Williams, who battled foul trouble, added 15 and nine, respectively.
The lanky Bird, ranked as the nation's No. 8 junior by ESPN, led Salesian with 19 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Jermaine Edmonds added 15.
Salesian (22-2) is ranked No. 31 nationally and No. 3 in the state by ESPN and top-ranked in Northern California by NorCalPreps.com. The Pride's two losses were to Florida teams and they haven't been tested in weeks in a Bay Shore League that is down this season.
During the past four years, the Pride has gone 111-21, won two CIF Northern California Division IV titles and also a state championship in 2009.
But for most of Saturday's game, they had to battle from behind as Sheldon matched the Pride's athleticism player for player.
"This is kind of how we thought it would go," said Salesian coach Bill Mellis. "We needed a game like this in a tough environment just before the playoffs, win or lose.
"This really is a game that could have gone either way. We needed to be pushed to the limit and have to execute down the stretch and we were able to do that against a really impressive team."
Although Salesian hadn't played since Wednesday and Sheldon (18-5) was coming off a tough Delta River League game the night before against Jesuit, Huskies coach Joey Rollings didn't want to use tired legs as an excuse for his team's collapse at the end.
"It was a great game, a great battle," Rollings said. "They're a great team. They hit some big shots at the end, and we missed some easy threes and some foul shots. We also made some bad decisions in the last couple of minutes, and you can't do that in a game like this."
Rollings says it's a game the Huskies can build on. Sheldon hopes to three-peat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champions, but the bigger goal is to reach a NorCal D-I final that has been elusive for the Huskies.
"We're going to learn from (this)," Rollings said.