Close-knit Pacifica Christian boys’ basketball denied by San Joaquin Memorial in CIF State Division II title game

Pacifica Christian Orange County boys' basketball coach Jeff Berokoff, second from left, displays the CIF runner-up trophy.
Pacifica Christian Orange County boys’ basketball coach Jeff Berokoff, second from left, displays the CIF runner-up trophy on Saturday at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
(Matt Szabo)

The Pacifica Christian Orange County High boys’ basketball team had a season to remember, by any metric.

The Tritons won their first outright league title. They were ranked No. 1 in Orange County for the first time. And the season culminated in their first CIF State championship game appearance.

But it was more about the hugs and high-fives along the way. Coach Jeff Berokoff, who has led the program since its first varsity season began in 2016, wasn’t talking about strictly talent when he called this the greatest group he’s ever been around.

That remained true, even after Pacifica Christian lost 58-47 to Fresno San Joaquin Memorial in the CIF State Division II title game Saturday at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

“These guys are more than just basketball players,” Berokoff said. “They’re just good, good young men, and they’re going to make everything around them better with more positivity, regardless of wins or losses. I’m better because of them. I just hope they’re better because of me.”

Pacifica Christian Orange County's Parker Strauss is shown going up for a shot against Fairmont Prep on Jan. 27.
Pacifica Christian Orange County’s Parker Strauss, shown going up for a shot against Fairmont Prep on Jan. 27, had 11 points on Saturday in the CIF State Division II title game.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Pacifica Christian (27-10) had that underdog mindset, and few people actually seemed to believe besides the Triton faithful. After senior standout Parker Strauss was injured during the team’s run to the CIF Southern Section Division 2A semifinals, Pacifica Christian was seeded just No. 9 in the Southern California Regional Division II playoffs.

In five state playoff games, the Tritons had just one home game. And so they became road warriors. Their motto — “just us” — became a reality.

“I’m going to remember my teammate next to me,” senior Tanner “Sarge” Deal said. “We were always the underdogs, and we’ve always fought back. I think we’re the toughest team in California, and I’m just going to miss them. I just want one more practice, one more game, one more eating out together. I’m going to really miss them.”

Deal, Strauss and sophomore guard EJ Spillman each scored 11 points to lead the Tritons in the state championship game against San Joaquin Memorial (26-9). The Stewart brothers, junior Alex and sophomore Logan, had six points each.

San Joaquin Memorial, which won its first state title in program history, was led by its two senior standouts, 6-foot-7 forward Mike Davis Jr. (17 points and 14 rebounds) and guard Armari Carraway (13 points).

Pacifica Christian's EJ Spillman (32) had 11 points for the Tritons on Saturday.
Pacifica Christian’s EJ Spillman (32), shown scoring against Orange Lutheran on Tuesday, had 11 points for the Tritons on Saturday in the CIF State Division II title game.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

After a first half that had seven lead changes, Pacifica Christian took a 25-23 halftime lead. San Joaquin Memorial coach Brad Roznovsky, whose team lost to CIF State Open Division finalist Santa Maria St. Joseph’s in the Central Section Division 1 quarterfinals before making its state run, joked afterward that his team set basketball back 50 years in Saturday’s first half.

“I think the thing that really carried us in this game, and throughout our state run, is that we really do a good job defensively,” Roznovsky said. “We stress it in practice. I think we do a pretty good job of mixing up our zone and our man, and that really kept us in the game. We were bad offensively in the first half, but we were down two [at halftime] because we really guarded.”

Pacifica Christian couldn’t buy a bucket for a stretch of the second half. Senior Salim Semaan’s reverse layup early in the third quarter gave the Tritons a 29-25 lead. From there, they would go more than nine minutes before their next field goal, a floater in the lane by Spillman with 4:37 left in the game.

San Joaquin Memorial had gone on a 24-5 run to take a double-digit lead.

“I think we missed nine ‘chippies’ in the third and fourth quarter, but the guys were fighting on the glass,” Berokoff said. “You’ve just got to make a few of those.”

The Tritons cut their deficit to nine points a couple of times late, but couldn’t get closer. After battling with a bigger team for four quarters, they took the loss hard.

Spillman, who along with Davis Jr. was honored with the CIF’s “Pursuit of Victory with Honor” sportsmanship award following the game, paused for a moment in the tunnel headed to the team’s post-game interviews. He was consoled by Pacifica Christian Orange County head of school David O’Neil, who wrapped his arm around Spillman’s shoulder.

When the team got to the interview room, the Northwestern University-bound Strauss was asked how it felt to play at the home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings in his final high school game.

Through a tear-soaked face, he answered confidently.

“We loved it,” Strauss said. “It was one more team trip.”


CIF State Division II championship game

San Joaquin Memorial 58, Pacifica Christian Orange County 47


Pacifica Christian 13 – 12 – 8 – 14 47

San Joaquin Mem. 13 – 10 – 14 – 17 58

PC — Strauss 11, Deal 11, Spillman 11, A. Stewart 6, L. Stewart 6, Semaan 2.

3-pt. goals — Deal 2, Spillman 1.

Fouled out — None.

Technicals — None.

SJM — M. Davis Jr. 17, Carraway 13, Potts 9, D. Davis 8, Perry Jr. 7, Olanrewaju 4.

3-pt. goals — D. Davis 2, Carraway 1, Potts 1, Olanrewaju 1.

Fouled out — None.

Technicals — None.


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