Back in December, few recognized the signs that Alemany High would become the region's first state girls' basketball finalist since 1995.
But they were there.
The savvy senior point guard. The flashy, high-scoring shooting guard. The talented freshman post player with the poise of a college senior. And the embattled coach, who emerged as the lightning rod for the school's brightest season to date.
The team that no one saw coming is here, in Sacramento, where it will face San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral today at 1:15 p.m. at Arco Arena for the state Division III title.
And, now, the signs are difficult to miss.
One still hangs on Coach Melissa Hearlihy's office door back in Mission Hills. It reads: "Go for 300," referring to Hearlihy's 299 career victories entering today's game.
Another flashed on the arrival/departure monitors at Burbank Airport on Friday morning as the team approached its loading gate.
"Good Luck Alemany High in the Final," the monitors said.
"The support we are receiving is incredible," said Hearlihy, who was fired last summer, then re-hired weeks later.
Approximately 200 Alemany fans are expected today when the Indians (27-6) make their first appearance in a state final. A rooter bus is scheduled to depart at 4 a.m.
Kelli Kobayashi, the only senior in the lineup, has averaged 14 points and five assists this season, and came through with eight points during a fourth-quarter stretch last week in Alemany's 50-45 victory over Harvard-Westlake in the Southern Regional final.
Sophomore guard Kate Beckler, averaging 21 points and freshman forward/center Karina Siam, averaging 10, also have played key roles in getting Alemany to the brink of the region's first title since Buena captured the state championship in 1983-84.
"I'm not comfortable just getting to this game," Hearlihy said. "There's a big difference to our school between being a state champion and being a runner-up."
Sacred Heart Cathedral also is making its first appearance in a final.
The Fightin' Irish (21-10) are the unlikeliest of state finalists.
The Central Coast Section runners-up carry only eight healthy players--five freshmen--and finished the regular season 15-9.
They were seeded last in the eight-team Northern Regional, but upset top-ranked Bear River in the first round of the state playoffs, then knocked off Lafayette Acalanes in the regional final.
"This just seems like a fairy tale," said 6-foot-2 Pepperdine-bound center Sarah Richen. "We're having fun. The freshmen have come a long way. They were timid at the start of the season, but now they're soldiers."
Richen, the 1996-97 player of the year in the San Francisco area, has served as their general and is averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Alemany post players Siam (5-10), Nyasha Bralock (5-8), Danielle Messiha (5-11) and Anna Karas (5-11) will try to measure up to Richen.
Alemany is the first team from the region to advance to a girls' state final since Newbury Park appeared in the Division III game in 1995.
The Indians had other opportunities to get this far.
In 1992 they advanced to the Southern Regional final before losing to Mission League rival Torrance Bishop Montgomery, a team they had defeated a week earlier for their first Southern Section championship.
In 1994, Alemany took a 30-0 record into the Southern Regional final before falling to Irvine Woodbridge.
Kobayashi will take a recruiting trip to San Francisco State on Friday. The 5-4 senior guard also is considering Cal State Los Angeles.