The upstart team in these Sac-Joaquin Section boys basketball playoffs finally tasted defeat after a spirited, quantum-leap season and 3-0 postseason start, but it wasn't due to lack of effort.
That's never the case for Liberty Ranch High School, where first-year coach Josh Williams implores his group to compete - or they can sit. On Saturday, the Hawks of Galt had a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of the Division IV title game against No. 2-seeded Summerville, but gave way to hot shooting and superior inside play down the stretch.
The Bears of Tuolomne pounded out a 63-52 victory at Sleep Train Arena to claim the program's first basketball championship.
Connor Morningstar led Summerville with 12 points, and fellow 6-foot-7 forward Rosendo Amaya-Wood had nine and 14. As he has all season, Michael Meserole paced fourth-seeded Liberty Ranch (22-8), scoring 24 points and yanking down nine rebounds. DeAndre Stallings, the 6-5 future of the program as a skilled sophomore, had 15 points, including three three-pointers.
Summerville (25-3) has been around seemingly since the beginning of time, first competing for a section title in 1982 and last doing so in 1991. Liberty Ranch, by contrast, has been around seemingly for a few months. In truth, the school is in its third varsity season, rising from four victories in a debut season to six last season to 22 this campaign, and then toppling top-seeded and storied Colfax in overtime in a semifinal as a 4-seed.
Williams has been here before, the NBA arena that serves as a goal for section basketball teams. He was a sophomore on the 1998 Galt Section D-II title team that was led by all-time program great Phillip Ricci, now playing overseas. Ricci is a fan of Williams and his young team, following the team's achievements through the Internet and social media.
"This means a lot more now as compared to a player," Williams said of the title experience. "I'm very happy for our guys for the experience. No one talked about us in October, and rightfully so. The love and respect I have for my team...they've made it special."
Both teams will advance to the Northern California D-IV Regional tournament that starts next week.
Bee file photo by Jose Luis Villegas: Michael Meserole of Liberty Ranch
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