It was a risky decision. At least, Santa Margarita boys' basketball Coach Jerry DeBusk thought so when he watched Santa Rosa Montgomery guard Joe Kelly foul Eagle guard T.J. Williams with 2 minutes 3 seconds left in the game and Santa Margarita clinging to a three-point lead.
But Kelly did just what he was told after Williams came up with a long rebound following a Viking possession. How could he not? Montgomery Coach Tom Fitchie was shouting for him to commit the fouls in an effort to get the ball back.
It turned out to be the biggest blunder of the game.
Kelly's fouls sent Williams to the free-throw line and he made one of two attempts, part of a nine free throw barrage in the final minutes by Santa Margarita that helped the Eagles win their first state Division II basketball title with a 61-52 victory in front of an announced crowd of 7,514 at Arco Arena Friday night.
Center Dekker McKeever led Santa Margarita (32-2) with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Eight of those came at the line, including six in the final quarter. Williams had 17 points and was seven of nine from the line, while Ryan Forehan-Kelly had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Kelly led all scorers with 23 points and tied a state tournament record by making six three-point field goals. Montgomery (26-8) made 11 of 35 three-pointers and used the weapon effectively to shoot over the Eagles' matchup zone defense.
Until Fitchie's tactical error, this was anyone's game.
"I thought there were five fouls on us when I told him to foul," Fitchie said. "I was wrong."
Indeed, DeBusk couldn't believe what he saw.
"I was surprised. It was a little bit early to foul for the ball," DeBusk said.
After Williams' made his first attempt at the line, Montgomery guard Tony Arnerich made the Vikings' final three-point shot from the left baseline to cut the Eagles' lead to 53-52. But that was all the Vikings could muster from the field. They missed their final seven shots and then fouled right away to stop the clock.
McKeever sank two free throws for a 55-52 lead with 1:12 to go. Forehan-Kelly missed the front end of a one and one, but Williams came back to make two and then McKeever closed out the scoring with four consecutive free throws. The Eagles made 20 of 25 free throws in all. Montgomery was one for five.
And it was a good thing, too, because Santa Margarita was firing up plenty of bricks and bad shots all evening. They opened the game making only three of their first 17 attempts and shot 27% from the field in the first half.
"We are on the road and we had 15 minutes to warm up in a place we have never played," DeBusk said. "We didn't shoot well, but we got 61 points and that's what it took to win."
Montgomery matched the Eagles with speed and quickness all evening in one of the more exciting--and close--state title games in a while. At one point, with the Eagles trailing by seven points in the final quarter, DeBusk junked the matchup zone for a man to man defense. He put Craig Rice on Kelly, and that quieted him some. Kelly made just two free throws after that.
Santa Margarita trailed, 10-5 after Trevor Lorz made his first three-point shot, and seventh point of the first quarter, with 4:52 left.
But the Eagles closed the quarter with a 6-0 run and took their first lead on a rebound and a basket from forward Jake Rohe--only the Eagles' third field goal in 13 tries to that point.
Williams started the second quarter with a three-point shot, but Kelly, who led all scorers at the half with 14 points, sank his second three-point basket.
Williams followed with two free throws, but Lorz tied the score, 16-16 with a three-point basket at the 4:52 mark.
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County boys' basketball teams that have won state championships:
1920 Orange d. Stockton, 45-29 1987 Mater Dei, Div. I d. Concord Ignacio Valley, 69-51 Woodbridge, Div. II d. El Sobrante De Anza, 89-63 1990 Mater Dei, Div. I d. San Francisco Riordan, 62-60 Servite, Div. III d. Hayward Mt. Eden, 67-51 1991 Tustin, Div. II d. San Ramon, 66-54 Estancia, Div. III d. Fremont Washington, 82-72 1995 Mater Dei, Div. I d. Oakland Fremont, 71-67 1998 Santa Margarita, Div. II d. Santa Rosa Montgomery, 61-52