The St. Joseph Notre Dame boys basketball team has another chance to add to its already impressive resume when it faces Horizon Christian-San Diego on March 22 in the CIF Division V state championship game at Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena.
The Pilots advanced to their ninth state championship game when they defeated Capital Christian-Sacramento 50-36 on March 26 in the of the Division V Northern Regional championship at American Canyon High.
The Pilots (25-11), led by center Temidayo Yussuf's 18 points and 17 from sharp-shooting sophomore Marcus Harris, have now won three straight Northern California championships and four in the last five years. They will be seeking their second state title in three years
St. Joseph coach Don Lippi believes his team is peaking at the perfect time.
"This has been happening over the last seven games," Lippi said. "We've learned to cut down on turnovers, play hard down the stretch and share the ball."
In its bruising battle at American Canyon High, top-seeded St. Joseph's was pitted against the No. 2 Cougars (26-5), led by heavily recruited football player Nifae Lealao Jr., a 6-foot-6 junior center. The Pilots salted away the victory by making 11 consecutive free throws over the final 2:49 of the fourth quarter, and countered Lealao Jr. with stout team rebounding overall.
Yussuf's clutch 14-foot jumper with 4:27 left increased the lead to 35-28, coming 1:21 after the teams nearly
St. Joseph's Justin Brown, Lamont Banks and Yussuf battled effectively inside, combining for 20 rebounds.
Along with their postseason accolades, the Pilots sharpened their edge this season against the likes of Salesian and El Cerrito in the Tri-County Rock Division.
"We had a lot of tough games, including against Salesian, which helped us prepare for this," Yussuf said. "We've been here before. Coach told us it was going to be hard, and so we came out with a lot of aggression."
The Pilots led 21-16 at halftime in the nip-and-tuck game, increasing the margin to 24-18 on a Yussuf jam off a pass from Marc Voisenat. The Pilots kept Capital Christian, the Sac Joaquin Section champion, in check down the stretch.