The Oxnard Santa Clara boys’ basketball team lost an iconic figure in November, when former coach Lou Cvijanovich passed away at the age of 92.
The passing of Cvijanovich, who won 30 league championships and 15 CIF titles in a 41-year career at Santa Clara, has been used as a motivation this year for the Saints.
“I always told the boys, ‘This is our year, nothing less than a CIF title,’” Santa Clara coach Bobby Tenorio said. “Everything that we’ve done, every game that we’ve played, everything we’ve been doing is for ‘Coach C.’”
Top-seeded Santa Clara was going for its first CIF title since 1999 — Cvijanovich’s final year at the helm — when it met No. 3 Sage Hill on Saturday in the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA championship game.
The Lightning, in their first CIF title game, kept it competitive but Santa Clara earned a 68-52 victory at Godinez High.
Junior center Christian Oliver scored a game-high 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting for Santa Clara (27-6), which went ahead 6-0 early on three straight baskets inside by Oliver.
Sage Hill took its only lead of the game at 12-11 early in the second quarter, but it wouldn’t hold up. Santa Clara outscored the Lightning 29-16 in the second quarter to grab a 40-26 halftime advantage.
Sophomore guard Josh Barocio came off the bench for 12 points on four three-pointers for Santa Clara, which got 10 points from senior guard Felix Ramos.
Senior center Johnny King, who said he recently committed to Pomona-Pitzer, had 16 points and 15 rebounds for Sage Hill (22-11). Sophomore guard Cooper Green added 12 points for the Lightning.
Senior guard Jack Strohman’s jumper cut Sage Hill’s deficit to eight points, at 49-41, with 2:40 left in the third quarter. But Santa Clara ended the quarter with seven straight points.
The fourth quarter then started out with two steals from Santa Clara’s Ivan Barocio, the first one leading to a dunk by Oliver.
“I thought we played pretty good for three quarters,” Sage Hill coach Billy Conlon said. “I thought the second quarter got away from us a little bit. We dug ourselves too deep of a hole, and weren’t quite able to overcome it in the second half. I think we got it down to eight there at one point in the third quarter, then they started getting to the free throw line a little bit and slowing down our momentum.
“They played a great game. We certainly weren’t at our best, but I couldn’t be more proud of the effort, the continuing fight of this team … Just too many mistakes.”
King, who stands 6 feet 10 like Oliver, complimented the dynamic offense of Santa Clara, which won its sixth straight game.
“I thought that what they did really well was adapting to what we were throwing at them,” King said. “We started off in a zone where I would play up high, and [Oliver] was getting short layups. Then they transferred me down to him, and they started hitting some [outside] shots. The way they changed up their offense to our defense was really big, I think.”
The season will continue for Sage Hill, which will play in its first CIF State Southern California regional game in program history on Tuesday. Conlon said the Lightning should vie in either Division IV or Division V.
While Conlon said that Sage Hill will wait until after its season ends to reflect on it, he acknowledged that this year’s team has been special.
“It’s been a record-breaking year,” Conlon said. “We had never won a league championship, we eclipsed 20 wins for the first time, Johnny won league MVP which was our first individual MVP award in basketball. This is all really foreign territory for us, but this group is so mentally tough that we took it in stride. We almost played as if we had been there a few times.”
CIF Southern Section Division 5AA playoffs
Santa Clara 68, Sage Hill 52
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Santa Clara 11 – 29 – 16 – 12 — 68
Sage Hill 10 – 16 – 15 – 11 — 52
SC – Oliver 23, J. Barocio 12, Ramos 10, Mack 6, Abbott 6, I. Barocio 5, Flores 5, Juarez 1.
3-pt. goals – J. Barocio 4, Oliver 2, Ramos 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
SH – King 16, Green 12, Strohman 9, Frye 8, Hosseinzadeh 4, Desbans 3.
3-pt. goals – Green 2, Strohman 1, Desbans 1.
Fouled out – Hosseinzadeh.
Technicals – None.