SACRAMENTO — Westchester High's drive to the Division I state championship ended Saturday night with a 52-40 victory over Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame before 5,500 at Arco Arena.
That the stage for the drive back to Los Angeles.
"We knew we had a long busride back home," Westchester forward Tony Bland said. "Nobody wanted to be asleep, we wanted to be up celebrating. And I can tell you, that's what we're going to do."
Westchester, making its first appearance in a state final, joined Cresnshaw, Carson and Manual Arts as City Section schools that have won boys' state titles. The Comets' victory was the sixth consecutive championship-game victory for a Southern Califoirnia school. The last Northern school to win the Division I title was St. Joseph, which won consecutive titles in 1991 and '92.
Westchester (30-3) claimed the victory with what became their playoff trademark--a third-quarter blitz immediately after halftime.
The Comets turned a 28-25 deficit into a 39-28 advantage before Notre Dame guard Rene Jacques ended the 14-0 run with jumper with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
St. Joseph (29-5), which lost to eight-time state champion Crenshaw in last year's final, had seen tape of the Comets. They knew the run was coming. But there was nothing the Pilots could do to stop it.
"We talked about it at halftime--the thing we wanted to do was get through those first five minutes," St. Joseph Coach Gordon Johnson said. "Unfortunately, we didn't make it thorugh. We got out of sync a little bit and made some turnovers that weren't characteristic of us."
The onslaught was completely characteristic of Westchester, which used similar tactics to defeat Manual Arts for the City Section 4-A title and Lakewood Artesia for the Southern California regional championship.
"I think at halftime, we realized this was it, especially for the seniors, this was our last game," said Westchester point guard Brandon Granville, who scored 10 points and had eight assists. "We wanted to go out with a bang."
Senior forward David Bluthenthal led Westchester with 16 points, Bland added 11 and forward Chris Osborne came off the bench to score 10 points.
St. Joseph swingman Ray Young, an All-American who will attend UCLA, was held to 10 points on five of 16 shooting.
"I was waiting for him to try and take over," Bland said. "Thank God he didn't come out at his best."
Young did seem to come alive at the start of the fourth quarter when he made a tough left-handed shot inside and turnaround jumper along the baseline that pulled St. Joseph to within 40-38 with 6:18 left. But Westchester held Young scoreless the rest of the way. The Pilots did not score over the last 4:05 and finished 16 for 60 (27%) from the field.
"I tried to kick it in in the fourth quarter, but things couldn't go our way and go down for us," Young said.
Bluthenthal helped Westchester start to pull away with a free throw with 5:59 left that gave the Comets a 41-38 lead. Bland then stole a pass and passed to Bluthenthal for a lay-up and Granville dished to Osborne on the next possession for another to give Westchester a seven-point lead St. Joseph got no closer than five the rest of the way.
Westchester trailed by eight points with three minutes left in the second quarter before finishing strong to trail only 28-25 at halftime.
The Comets struggled through the first 13 minutes, missing several lay-ups, putbacks and short jumpers under pressure from the bigger St. Joseph front court players, including 6-foot-11 Hondre Brewer and 6-8 Justin Davis.
Westchester's frustration was typified with 3:42 left in the first half when Bluthenthal stole a pass in the key and dribbled the length of the court toward the unguarded basket. The crowd seemed to hold its collective breath, anticipating a spectacular dunk, and Bluthenthal elevated as if he was going to deliver. But his stuff attempt bounced off the back of the rim and into the hands of Young, who went the other way for a dunk that gave the Pilots a 23-15 lead.