With Shon Tarver and Stacey Cvijanovich--symbols of Santa Clara High's past dominance--on hand to give the team a pregame pep talk, the current group of Saints went about proving themselves worthy of a place in the school's annals Saturday night at Cal State Dominguez Hills in a Southern California Division IV regional championship game.
Santa Clara looked as sharp and as focused as it has all year in dismantling San Diego Lincoln Prep, 68-55, and placing itself at the doorstep of a record-setting third consecutive state title. Santa Clara (28-4) will travel to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for a championship game Friday against Northern California champion Hayward.
"We came to play," said 33rd-year Coach Lou Cvijanovich, who coached his 22nd consecutive playoff win. "It's that old Santa Clara defense."
The Saints' third consecutive Southern California title becomes noteworthy when one considers that just two starters--senior Anthony Maestas and junior Chris Cole--returned from last year's team.
But against Lincoln, Santa Clara looked as if it had not missed a beat. The Saints' trademark match-up 2-3 zone frustrated a quicker Hornet team, harrying them into 20 turnovers. And on offense, Santa Clara showed that it need not worry that Tarver, now at UCLA, was sitting on the bench in street clothes.
Who could Lincoln Prep concentrate on? If the Hornets worried themselves about the inside play of Isaiah Mustafa, who scored a game-high 18 points, then Chris Cole would beat his man on a penetrating drive. Cole scored 16 points and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. He also handed out seven assists in what was the game's finest all-around performance.
But just as steady, guard Art Barron scored 15 points and had seven assists and forward Stevie Amar had 12 points and seven rebounds. Lincoln Prep was simply overmatched by a balanced, well-oiled machine.
Santa Clara closed the first quarter with a 6-0 spurt to take a 23-15 lead and forced 13 turnovers in building a 39-29 halftime lead.
The Hornets were able to get as close as seven points just once after intermission. The Saints enjoyed leads of 14 and 12 points for much of the second half and weren't seriously challenged.
Santa Clara, quite clearly, was ready to take its new identity as an outstanding team for Cvijanovich to count among his best. "Shon and Stacey told them to have fun and enjoy it," Cvijanovich said. "That these are the memorable years."
Memorable years for a team that is one game shy of being one to remember.