NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- They started July with a championship at Oregon's End of the Trail, then won the Music City Classic in Tennessee a week ago. Any other year, that's a solid summer for the Cal Swish program.
Not this year. This summer, fans, opposing parents and even opposing coaches told Russ Davis, the Swish's longtime coach, how fun it was to watch the 10 players on Cal Swish Black. A gaggle of girls, primarily from Orange County, Calif., who could shoot the three at will, run a lockdown zone defense and bust into fits of laughter during a timeout were making folks take notice.
A loss in pool play at Nike Nationals sent them as the No. 2 seed into a quarterfinal rematch with the Tennessee Flight. A seven-point win later and they faced the Fairfax Stars, where a six-point win Friday morning set Swish on a path to do something no West Coast team before them had accomplished.
So when the buzzer sounded Friday afternoon on Swish's 48-40 Gold Division win against Boo Williams, which beat Cal Storm 60-37 in the other semifinal, for the Swish program's first Nike Nationals championship, there was no doubting what the coach was going to say.
"This is our best Swish team ever," Davis said. "Officially."
It was a repeat of what he'd said earlier in July, but Friday the girls made his words come true. Instead of claiming the EOT title and no other tournament championship like Swish teams past, the banners and bracket at the summer's biggest tournament belonged to California.
"We changed hotels this year," Davis said. "Maybe that was it. ... But we were deeper and it was just a great team effort."
Swish, known for deadly 3-point shooting, won the championship primarily on defense and rebounding. Hitting five of 22 attempts from behind the arc -- three from Lindsay Sherbert and two from Bonnie Samuelson -- wasn't going to get the job done. They also held Elizabeth Williams, the top player in the 2011 class, to four points and three rebounds, and outrebounded Boo, runners-up for the second-straight year, 34-13 as a team.
The Swish-Boo battle was a contrast to the Silver Division championship -- won by DFW 66-64 in double overtime -- that played just before it, a heated battle between a hurting DFW T-Jack team and the feisty NYC Gauchos.
While the Gauchos took control for most of the second half, DFW tied the game during the final minute and fouled Martina Ellerbe twice to get the ball back. Ellerbe hit three of the four, missing the final opportunity with 9.2 seconds on the clock. Kelsi Baker secured the rebound and made it to midcourt before getting off a buzzer-beating shot attempt. Her heave fell short, but the refs whistled a foul on the play.
A poised Baker, who had hit her face on the court a few minutes earlier, made all three to tie the game in regulation. She scored DFW's two points in the first overtime, while Alexis Jones, T-Jack's lone 2012, hit the winning bucket as the clock wound down on the second overtime.
The animated game filled the gym with electricity and drama for the Swish-Boo feature, which then had a sudden loss of electricity at halftime.
Late in the first half, around the time Nicole Hung, a 2010 guard for the Swish, left the game with a large gash above her left eye, a wild storm started brewing outside. Moments after the halftime buzzer sounded, the lighting in the gymnasium went out. The scoreboards and some emergency lighting stayed on, and the teams were given a 16-minute halftime.
After Davis briefly talked to the girls, who were struggling with their shots falling in the first half, they moved onto the dim court and started shooting practice.
"It was a sign, I guess," said Sherbert, who led the Swish is 14 points and nine rebounds. "Russ at halftime said you've just got to keep shooting. A good shooter always just keeps shooting. Bonnie and I both just kept shooting and it finally went in."
Once the lights came back on, the shots started falling for Swish, which took control and opened up a 10-point lead. Shortly after a three-minute span during which neither team scored, coach Boo Williams called a timeout to light a fire under his team. From there, they brought the game to within four as the clock hit the final minute. Chloe Wells, Williams' 2010 point guard who led her team with 13 points, hit a three, but was answered by Samuelson, who finished with 12. Wells went at it again, hitting a layup and making the foul shot with 25.5 seconds remaining, but Thea Lemberger and Samuelson each hit both of their free throws to finish it off.
"This summer was just great, we had a great team," said Samuelson, Swish's lone 2011 who was named the tournament MVP by ESPN HoopGurlz. "We really clicked, everybody got along really well. We all went hard and left everything on the court every single game, and we're always there for each other."
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Mindi Rice is a National High School / ESPN HoopGurlz staff writer. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and a barista at Starbucks, and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at email@example.com.