Matt Smrekar got decked in the game's opening seconds and Marquese Chriss took a sharp elbow to the eyebrow a moment later.
The Pleasant Grove Eagles collectively picked themselves up, wiped off the dust and growled right back.
When it was over, Pleasant Grove stood as a first-time CIF Northern California Regional Division I champion, withstanding Deer Valley's best best shots in every way for a 73-60 victory on Saturday night.
Eagles players celebrated on the Sleep Train Arena floor after a trying season of frustating seconds. Pleasant Grove was second to rival Sheldon in the Delta River League, second to those same Huskies in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-I finals, but not about to settle for second here.
Smrekar was floored by a Marcus Lee elbow as the Eagles senior tried to lay some interior muscle on the 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American in the lane. Chriss, a 6-6 post, was clocked by a similar tactic. Seeded second in the field, Pleasant Grove hardly flinched, using offensive balance and making 27 of 28 free throws to bounce the top-seeded Wolverines of Antioch.
Matt Hayes had a game-high 20 points, Malik Thames scored 17 on his 18th birthday and Cole Nordquist produced 16 and 12 rebounds in the program's greatest basketball achievement. Thames also earned the CIF Sportsmanship award.
Lee, the remarkably athletic 6-10 center headed to Kentucky, had 10 points (9 below his average) to go with 16 rebounds. Kendall Smith led Deer Valley with 17 points.
"Very proud of how we handled this," Eagles coach John DePonte said.
Pleasant Grove now plays Southern California D-I Regional champion Santa Monica next Friday night at Sleep Train.
For more on Pleasant Grove's milestone victory and a Bee photo gallery, check after midnight on sacbee.com and/or in Sunday's print version of the paper.
Bee photo by Randall Benton: Matthew Hayes hugs Eagles head coach John DePonte following their victory.
- Joe Davidson
- On Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD
- On podcast: ESPN1320.net