Hornets Take NorCal Title

Jose Z. Lim Jr.    The Alameda Hornets men’s basketball team celebrated after winning the California Interscholastic Federation Div. II NorCal Regional title Saturday, March 17, in their home gym. It’s the first NorCal basketball title in school history. The team will face Crossroads High of Santa Monica tomorrow in Sacramento for the state title.

The Alameda High men’s basketball team won its first NorCal regional title after a thrilling 76-66 overtime victory over St. Mary’s of Stockton at home last Saturday, March 17.

The Hornets entered the overtime period with the Rams (26-9) with the score tied at 57. St. Mary’s scored the first points of the four-minute overtime with a basket by sophomore Jamar Marshall. It was the Rams’ first lead of the game. Alameda’s response to trailing for the first time was a 12-0 run. Senior Sam Wettergren started it off with a layup. The Hornets took the lead for good after another layup by senior guard Benno Zecic gave Alameda the 61-59 lead. Zecic then hit a 3-pointer to stretch Alameda’s lead to 64-59. The Hornets led 69-59 about midway through overtime and hit crucial free throws to secure the Div. II NorCal Regional crown. 

It appeared Alameda, the first seed out of 16 teams in the Div. II tournament, was going to defeat the second-seeded Rams in regulation. The Hornets led 57-51 with about two-and-a-half minutes left in the game. But, the Rams ended regulation on a 6-0 run including a dunk by 6’ 7” junior Bryce Johnson.

Alameda led for the majority of the game, but never held an insurmountable lead. The Hornets led 
17-11 after the first quarter and 29-25 at halftime. The Hornets’ largest lead of the game came in the third quarter when Alameda took a 44-33 lead after a 3-pointer by senior guard Andre Smith. The Rams ended the third quarter on a 7-2 run to trail 46-40 at the end of the quarter.

Zecic scored a team-high 17 points for the Hornets. He was one of four Hornets to score in double figures. Smith, a reserve, scored 14 points in the game. Wettergren finished with 13 points, while senior Ryan Cibull scored 12 points. Senior Kingley Obiorah led the Hornets with 11 rebounds. 

Johnson and senior Aaron Jenkins III led the Rams with 18 points apiece. Marshall scored 12 points for the Rams. Johnson was also a monster on the boards pulling down 20 rebounds.

Alameda (28-5) will now face Crossroads of Santa Monica (24-9) in the Div. II state championship game at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Crossroads is led by senior Shareef O’Neal. The UCLA-bound 6’ 10’’ forward is the son of National Basketball Association Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal.

It has been quite the turnaround for the Hornets since coach Cameron Quick took the helm four years ago. The Hornets went 6-22 overall and 1-10 in the West Alameda County Conference Shoreline League in Quick’s first year in 2014. Not only did the Hornets win the NorCal Div. II tournament, the Hornets’ 61-42 win over Oak Ridge on March 7 was its first NorCal playoff win in school history, according to California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) records.  

The Hornets reached the NorCal final with a 66-60 victory over Grant of Sacramento in the Div. II NorCal regional semifinal on March 13. The Hornets trailed by 10 points to the fifth-seeded Pacers early in the second half. Alameda regained the lead for good early in the fourth quarter. The Hornets’ stout performance from the free-throw line pushed them to victory. Alameda made 26 of 30 free throws in the semifinal game. Wettergren led the team with 17 points. Obiorah chipped in 14 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Sophomore AJ McGee led the Pacers with 18 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. Junior Dee Juan Pruitt added 16 points for Grant.

The Alameda Theater will be broadcasting the CIF Div. II state basketball championship game between Alameda High and Crossroads tomorrow at 4 p.m. Doors will open at 3:30 p.m. Tickets cost $5 and are on sale now at the theater box office. Proceeds will benefit Alameda High School Athletic Boosters. The championship game will also be shown on NBC Sports California.