Cougars Claim Coveted NorCal State Title


NorCal D II State Champions

One of the great qualities of being a great leader is to be ready to help. Last night, as the Weston Ranch Cougars were in the process of capturing the CIF NorCal Division II championship, the quality of always being ready to help manifested itself from everyone representing the Cougars.

Weston Ranch beat St. Patrick-St. Vincent 62-61 to secure their place in history and propel them to Saturday’s Division II state title game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, where they will take on No. 1 seed St. Francis of La Canada. The Cougars were involved in another thrilling nail biter and again found themselves having to defend their basket with the time running out. As they had done many times before during this magical tournament run (both the Sac-Joaquin Sectionals and the State Championship), the Cougars helped each other out to get the job done.

Great teams win big games. In the school’s history, no other game has been as big as last night’s tussle with St. Patricks. Although the Cougars won the Division III Sectionals the previous season, the stakes were a bit higher in last night’s game. First, the winner moves on to play for the State Championship. Second, the winner moves on to play for the State Championship. And, after the Cougars began the season 4-9, to see them in this position was quite remarkable.

Flashback to the opening game versus Dougherty Valley, a 66-55 loss where the Cougars found themselves in foul trouble, saw their offensive output thwarted, unable to establish roles, and fighting amongst themselves. Three more losses followed that first loss, and the Cougars, who were 31-2 in the 2018-2019 season, suddenly found themselves 0-4 and in a little bit of trouble. But, the season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Cougars worked on some things and began to assert themselves and find ways to help each other as the season progressed.

The next nine games, all out of the conference and against tough opponents, had the Cougars mixing in some wins along with losses, and the Cougars went into the VOL with a record of 4-9. It was at this point of the season where the Cougars “hit the switch” (a term coined by The Prowl) and ran off an impressive 10-2 VOL record. Often dismantling teams, the Cougars began believing they were unique, and this team was special. However, two crushing losses to eventual VOL champion Central Catholic still had the Cougars wondering if they could take the next step. All the pre-season opponents scheduled by head coach Chris Teevan was getting the Cougars ready. The losses were OK because they had bigger plans outside of the VOL.

The Cougars went into the Sac-Joaquin Sectionals and reeled off three straight wins. They found themselves facing Capital Christian in the semi-finals. But, alas, the magic ran out as the Cougars were defeated by the Highlanders 77-57. It was an excellent run for the Cougars, and they certainly proved they had come a long, long way from that opening game loss against Dougherty Valley. Even though they took the loss, they received an invite to the Division II State Tournament with another chance to extend the season.

The Cougars entered the Division II tournament seeded #4, an obvious nod from the seeding committee that their earlier work and run in the Sections were respected. Weston Ranch knocked out Piedmont, Oakland Tech, and St. Mary’s, setting up last night’s championship showdown with St. Patricks-St. Vincent. The two had met before in the Crush in the Valley Tournament, and the Cougars bested the Bruins 61-54. But, this game was for all the marbles, and it promised to be different. And different it was.

Weston Ranch took the opening first-quarter lead 14-13. They opened the second quarter on a 12-0 run and led 30-17 with 1:24 left in the quarter. The Bruins, who never led until the 4th quarter, managed to chip away at the 13 point lead, and both teams walked off the court at the break seeing the Cougars lead 30-21.

The third quarter saw the Bruins and Cougars exchanging baskets. The Cougars continued to put up points (21), but the Bruins were hanging tough and not going away. St. Patricks scored 22 third-quarter points, but the Cougars remained in front 51-43. The third quarter was also the point of the game where the leadership quality of helping each other out began to shine. Junior Mi’Son Coilton, coming off one of his best games against St. Mary’s, picked up the scoring slack as senior Gavin Wilburn and Donjae’ Lindsey had difficulty putting the ball in the hoop. Wilburn had five third-quarter points, and Lindsey was shut out. Coilton went out and dropped 16. Boom! Helping out where you’re needed.

The fourth and final quarter was very different. The Bruins continued to assert themselves offensively and whittled away the lead. The Cougars managed six points in the opening minutes (all via free throws) and found themselves in a fight for the final remaining precious minutes. In all, Weston Ranch scored 11 fourth-quarter points and needed to rely on defense and leadership to carry them through to the end. As the Bruins erased the deficit, the Cougars needed something. Enter Coilton again. Leading 56-55 and losing momentum fast, the Cougars had the ball. As the shot clock wound down, this possession was crucial, and Coilton had the ball at the top of the 3-point line. With 1 second left on the shot-clock, Coilton let fly a 3 point attempt and nailed it, giving the Cougars a 59-55 lead. Coilton’s 3 was a dagger to the hearts of the Bruins, but as the crowd saw the whole night, St. Patricks wasn’t going away. The Bruins raced up the court, and Coilton again made another spectacular play as he stole the ball with 1:45 on the clock, and the Cougars still led 59-57. In that short stretch. Coilton maybe won the game for the Cougars.

The Cougars held a 60-59 lead with 50 seconds left. But, as quickly as they had built the edge and as they helped each other maintain it, the Bruins grabbed their first lead of the night with 15 seconds left. Leading 61-60, the Cougars had the ball and gave it to Wilburn just as they had done against St. Mary’s. The Bruins were ready to stop Wilburn, but he dropped a brilliant pass off to Jorhadn Johnson, who put the ball in the basket. On a night where he didn’t score much, Wilburn’s help might have won the game for the Cougars. Johnson, who finished with 18 points, played a strong game and had the considerable task of guarding St. Patricks 6’11” center Dishon Jackson. Johnson’s brilliance against Jackson might have won the game for the Cougars.

Weston Ranch’s basket with 4 seconds left gave them back the lead at 62-61. After the two teams called back-to-back timeouts, the stage was set for the dramatic finish. Weston Ranch has been in this spot before. The only question was: Who would help secure this win? The Bruins inbounded the ball and raced up the court. The had to get by Coilton. They had to get by Lindsey. They had to get by Johnson. They had to get by senior Titus Haley. It was Wilburn who had the final say, and he turned away St. Patrick’s last attempt. He got his hand on the shot, and it missed—ball game.

As the Cougars celebrated with each other and were mobbed by the many Weston Ranch fans who traveled en masse to witness history, this reporter reflected on the season and the remarkable turnaround the Cougars made from that opening game against Dougherty. They grew. They overcame. They helped.  They showed heart. They finished 24-12.  Most of all, they explained what tremendous leaders they are, and it is with great honor we submit their story.