Santas be praised!

Santa Margarita and Santa Clara High Schools prevailed in the finals of the CIF-Southern Section boys’ basketball tournament Feb. 23, adding to their impressive basketball championship history (a collective 22 titles between them).

Bishop Montgomery and Providence/Burbank, meanwhile, fell short of the championships, but like the two victorious squads are expected to participate in the upcoming Southern California Regional Playoffs, the winners of which will play for state championships in March.

The breakdown:

Division 1: With a late-game rally, No. 7 Santa Margarita (23-10) upset No. 1 Chino Hills in overtime, 62-61, at Cal Baptist in Riverside, winning the seventh boys’ basketball title in the Eagles’ history and their first since winning the 3AA title in 2014.

Coach Jeff Reinert’s team trailed by 10 points with 3:36 to play, but Max Agbonkpolo led a rally capped by Jake Kyman’s tying three-point basket with nine seconds left to force overtime. Agbonkpolo made the game-winner with 1:10 left in OT and ended with 23 points, while Kyman had 14.

Division 5AA: Determined to win for the late “Coach C,” No. 1 Santa Clara (27-6) — making its first CIF-SS title game appearance in 20 years — upended No. 3 Sage Hill 68-52 at Godinez High School in Santa Ana.

The Bobby Tenorio-coached Saints of Oxnard bolted to an early 6-0 lead on Christian Oliver’s three baskets, and gradually pulled away, fending off a third-quarter Sage Hill burst with one of its own that decided the outcome. The 6-foot-10 Oliver ended with 23 points, Josh Barocio had 12 and Feliz Ramos had 10.

Santa Clara, whose legendary coach Lou Cvijanovich died last November, won their 15th championship and their first since 1999. The Saints lost three of their first four this season, but rallied for winning streaks of seven and nine games to turn their season around.

Open Division: In its tenth CIF-SS finals appearance, No. 8 Bishop Montgomery ended on the short end of a 64-57 decision to the nation’s top-ranked team, Sierra Canyon, in the championship game at Cal Baptist.

The Knights of Torrance (24-5) played the defending state Open Division champs tough throughout as Josh Vasquez scored 19 points. But Sierra Canyon (28-3), led by Cassius Stanley’s 29 points, could not be overtaken.

Division 4A: Two schools barely ten miles apart traveled to Colony High School in Ontario, where No. 2 Ribet Academy (19-3) won, 56-45, over No. 1 Providence/Burbank (26-7), despite 14 points from the Pioneers’ Jonas Hill.

It was Providence’s second-ever finals appearance in school history; the Pioneers lost in overtime in the 2012 5A finals.

Mike Nelson is the former editor of The Tidings (predecessor of Angelus News).

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