By Joe Davidson
Rudy Tomjanovich once said of his Houston Rockets after coaching them to an NBA championship two decades ago, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion."
Joey Rollings can second that thought at the high school level with the same measure of exhausted glee.
His gritty, determined, talented Sheldon Huskies bunch rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to topple Jesuit 61-56 on Saturday night in a historic Northern California Division I championship game at Power Balance Pavilion.
Needing to beat their Delta River League rivals a seventh consecutive time over two years and a fourth time this season, the Huskies showed remarkable resolve and poise in chipping away from a game that Jesuit owned early, then rejoiced with a closing 12-2 run to become the first Sac-Joaquin Section public school to win a large-school boys NorCal title.
What's more, this was the first time in the 30-year history of the NorCal tournament that two larger-school boys teams from Sacramento played for a title, a show of strength for a region that for years has been buckled by the traditional powers of the Bay Area.
Jesuit, a senior-dominanted club, was determined to reverse fortunes with one final title chance but the Huskies would have none of it, and now they have a chance to make real history. Sheldon (29-5) will take on national super power Mater Dei of Santa Ana next Saturday at Power Balance for a shot to become the section's first D-I state champion.
"I'm very proud of these guys," a spent Rolling said before scooping up his equally as sweaty 3-year old son Tristan for a celebration hug. "Some thought maybe we were too young this year but they're all warriors."
Sheldon is indeed young with a junior-dominated lineup, but it is seasoned, confident and increasingly battle-tested crew. Dakarai Allen, Sheldon's smooth, unflappable junior guard who scored 16 points, had a putback to pull to within 56-55 with 1:50 to go. He followed with a steal, was fouled and made two free throws to give his team the lead for the first time -and for good - at 56-56. Nate Iese, the national football recruit headed to UCLA, had two of the ugliest free throws in tournament history by his own admission for a 59-56 lead with 1:20 left, and free throws by Allen and team leader point guard D'Erryl Williams capped it.
Williams two weeks earlier took over down the stretch to beat Jesuit for the section title and a three-peat title effort and he he took over in the second half here with more inspired play. The junior had two points at the half as Sheldon made just 8 of 25 shots and finished with a game-high 23 with six rebounds in willing his team to compete.
"I wanted it so bad - we all did," Williams said. "Didn't want to lose. We worked too hard for this."
Said an admiring Allen, "I'm so proud of this team. We didn't want it to end. And D'Erry...I love that guy. He's the best player in Sacramento. No one can stop him."
Kyi Thomas had 10 points, Iese four and Antonio Lewis again came off the bench to provide a big boost, scoring eight.
The senior group of Akachi Oguko (12 points), Parker Uu (12), Bryce Pressley (12), Kurt Parker (12), Luke Lutes (five) and Brian Glodowski (five) led the Marauders. Uu fouled out with 1:59 to go, his team up 56-53.
Jesuit coach Greg Harcos implored his team to keep their heads up after the game, to be proud of their effort and to appreciate the rivalry at hand. There was no shame losing to Sheldon, the section power these days itching for one more win to cap what has already been a regional story book season.
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