By Joe Davidson
The third time very well may be the charm for Pleasant Grove High School basketball.
To be more specific, a third and final shot at rival Sheldon, this time to crown the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champion.
The Eagles beat Bella Vista 68-60 in a semifinal at Sleep Train Arena on Wednesday night to set up an all Elk Grove Unified School District finale on Saturday.
Sheldon won the first two meetings, both intense, both close, both as rewarding for the winners as they were deflating for the other side in winning the Delta River League and maintaining hold on The Bee's No. 1 ranking. Pleasant Grove (24-5) ended the regular season Bee ranked second - and also bounds into these finals seeded second behind their old friends.
"Sheldon's a great team, and everyone has to be on their game to beat them," Pleasant Grove forward Cole Nordquist said after scoring 10 points. "If we play our game, don't make mistakes, listen to our coaches, we can do it. It's definitely a motivation. This is the last time we'll play them."
Sheldon is off to the newly created Open Division elite bracket come NorCal time, win or lose on Saturday. The Huskies seek a record large-school section four-peat. Pleasant Grove is headed to the NorCal D-I field for the first time, win or lose Saturday. Bella Vista (24-6) is also a D-I NorCal participant, as are all section semifinalists.
Four Eagles starters reached double figures in another show of balance and cohesion. Senior guard Malik Thames had 23 on 9 of 15 shooting and fellow senior guard Matt Hayes went for 16. Marquess Chriss, a sophomore post, had 10 and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Tyler Berkness led Bella Vista with 24 and Austin Hennen had 13. The Broncos are in their first D-I playoff run after decades of D-II play.
"That's a good team, very scrappy," Nordquist said.
Bee file photo by Jose Luis Villegas: Referee Chris Christianson talks with players before Friday nights basketball game between top ranked Sheldon and no. 2 Pleasant Grove at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove on January 25, 2013.