Rams beat Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in matchup of region’s top two teams. Courtney Range, Charise Holloway both star for St. Mary’s.
Since winning a memorable 2009 CIF Division III Northern California title game over Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco, the St. Mary’s of Stockton girls basketball team has for the most part ruled the region.
According to the final Cal-Hi Sports state rankings, the Rams were the top-ranked team in Northern California after winning CIF state titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but in order to make it an unprecedented four in a row it was paramount for them to beat visiting Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland on Saturday afternoon at Morelli Gym in Stockton.
Bishop O’Dowd actually came into Saturday’s game as the higher-ranked team at No. 5 in the state and No. 1 in the region. The Dragons also will be in a different state playoff division than St. Mary’s, which meant the winner Saturday would have the rankings edge at the end of the season.
With the home crowd rocking, the Rams buried eight of their first 11 shots from beyond the 3-point line and were successful getting the game into a frantic pace in the first half. The Dragons mounted a fourth quarter comeback, but had to come from too far behind and ended up with a 76-67 defeat.
“Being No. 1 in Northern California is something you can’t take for granted,” said St. Mary’s coach Tom Gonsalves, whose 22-3 team should move up next week in the rankings to No. 1 in the region and at least to No. 5 in the state. “People sometimes get spoiled with things like that, but I don’t. It’s special.”
After leading 22-13 at the end of the first quarter, the Rams (who also were in the POWERADE FAB 50 this week at No. 21 ahead of O'Dowd, which was No. 30) extended their advantage to 45-25 at halftime. They did it in the way they usually do by forcing turnovers and making 3-pointers.
“I was shocked at how we played in the first half,” said O’Dowd coach Malik McCord. “We know what they like to do. It was weird.”
The Dragons (21-3) still looked out of it heading into the fourth quarter, looking at a 60-41 deficit. But after scoring three straight baskets to start the fourth, then going on a 10-0 run a few minutes later, it was suddenly a game. Courtney Range quelled the rally for St. Mary’s with a pair of free throws with two minutes left, but a 3-pointer by O’Dowd’s Alex Kalmbach made the score 70-65 with one minute left. That was as close as the Dragons would get as Range and then Charise Holloway both hit free throws down the stretch.
Range, a 6-foot-1 junior, turned in a statement game herself. Going up against O’Dowd’s tall front line, she responded with 23 points, nine rebounds, four steals, three blocks and three assists.
“She’s out to prove this year how good she can be,” Gonsalves said. “Every time we’ve played somebody that is supposed to be real good she responds. She is proving to be someone who really wants and meets challenges.”
Holloway also had one of her best outings. The 5-foot-10 sophomore connected on two 3-pointers to help her score 21 points. She also pulled down seven rebounds.
“We worked as a team and got a lot of good shots,” Holloway said. “If we move the ball around like we’re supposed to, it becomes easy. Today I definitely felt more confident.”
Senior Regina Camera added 17 points and three assists for St. Mary’s.
For O’Dowd, the slower pace of the second half helped 6-foot-4 junior Oderah Chidom and 6-foot-2 junior Kendall Waters pile up more rebounds and contributed to the tightening score. Chidom had 17 points and 12 rebounds while Waters had 15 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and three assists. The Dragons also received 10 points and five assists from 5-foot-4 junior guard Areill Bostick.
“Playing a team like this at this time of the year is going to prepare us for the playoffs,” McCord said. “We definitely learned from this.”
Barring injury or player transfers, it’s also a matchup that hopefully will be continued next year. In addition to Range and Holloway for the Rams and Chidom and Waters for the Dragons, almost everyone on the two teams will be returning.
Note: Harold Abend contributed to this report.
Corrections or comments? Email Mark.Tennis@espn.com.