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Extending the Season: No Sierra Canyon-Sheldon trilogy, but three fantastic finishes - HIGHSCORE
Extending the Season: No Sierra Canyon-Sheldon trilogy, but three fantastic finishes
Video: Sierra Canyon wins at buzzer
Trailblazers advance to state in dramatic fashion.

The lights at Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings, have never shined so bright for a high school event.
 
In each of the past two seasons, the star-studded boys basketball team from Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) played against hometown Sheldon (Sacramento). The energy and excitement was palpable for the games that capped the CIF's 12-game state basketball championships.

The Trailblazers brought an entourage that included former NBA players and Hollywood celebrities, who sat courtside for all to see.

They are high school basketball's version of the Showtime Lakers.

The hometown fans walked away disappointed each of the past two seasons as the flashy visitors showed more than just a little glitz — Sierra Canyon won each game handily, 76-52 and 75-62. But Huskies were hopeful that with a strong cast returning, including Marcus Bagley, younger brother of Kings' star Marvin Bagley, they would return in 2020 to flip those results.

The Huskies and Trailblazers appeared on a collision course before the coronavirus pandemic struck the country full force last week.

Sierra Canyon, featuring 5-star prospects in Ziaire Williams, Brandon Boston Jr. and Amari Bailey, plus the sons of LeBron James (Bronny James) and Dwyane Wade (Zaire Wade), captured its third straight Southern California regional title in the most dramatic way possible.
This buzzer beater by Ziaire Williams against Etiwanda would turn out to be the last shot of the season for Sierra Canyon.
Photo by Louis Lopez
This buzzer beater by Ziaire Williams against Etiwanda would turn out to be the last shot of the season for Sierra Canyon.
The Trailblazers pulled off a 63-61 stunner over Etiwanda as Williams, a McDonald's All-American, finished off a 13-0 run to close the game with a fade-away, 17-foot swish at the buzzer to set off a wild celebration.

"It was truly surreal," Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier said a week after the shot. "How magical was it for us to just fight all the way back from that seemingly endless hole? And then to win it on that shot by Ziaire. Truly surreal."

Sheldon's path to the Northern California finals was similarly unlikely — perhaps even more so.

One week before the finals, the plug was pulled on the Huskies' season after a student in Sheldon's district was quarantined as a precaution for coronavirus.

Two days of public outcry and political pressure led to top-seeded Sheldon being reinstated, but the Huskies found themselves down eight late on the road in the semifinals against a very determined Dublin squad.

Yet, they fought back to win 65-64, powered by Bagley's 27 points that included an improbable go-ahead shot with 17.5 seconds remaining.

"I'm proud of all of our guys, our team," Bagley told Joe Davidson of the Sacramento Bee. "I'm happy. We've been resilient all year. Learned a lot about our team. We're built for this. That's why this game meant so much."

That win vaulted Sheldon in the semifinals against another team built on great resolve, the Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland) Dragons. Winners of 18 straight games after a 5-7 start, O'Dowd looked capable of derailing the Sierra Canyon-Sheldon trilogy.

The Dragons had one the top freshman in the country, 6-foot-8 14-year-old forward Jalen Lewis, one of the state's top juniors in Marsalis Roberson and Cal signee Monty Bowser, as well as their own motivation.

It was five years ago that Ivan Rabb sank a game-winning free throw with less than a second to play to shock Mater Dei (Santa Ana) in the state final. A book "Dragon Hoops," was supposed to be released on the anniversary of that game, and O'Dowd was bent on repeating the feat.

It would have been a tall order, but O'Dowd was at the top of its game after a decisive 13-point road win over second seed Archbishop Mitty in the NorCal semifinals.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is our last game," O'Dowd coach Lou Richie said after the game. "Tomorrow is not promised."

Turned out, Richie called it.

The morning of the delayed O'Dowd-Sheldon NorCal finals on March 12, CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti canceled that game and the weekend's 2020 state championship games.

"While we understand this decision is disappointing, we strongly believe that the opportunity to compete in this event does not outweigh our obligation to place the health and safety of our member schools and school communities above all else," he said.

No Sheldon-Sierra Canyon trilogy. No O'Dowd epilogue. No Trailblazers' three-peat.

All three coaches lamented the disappointment — how thrilling it would have been to watch all those talented athletes under the simmering spotlight.

But each coach recognized the bigger picture — health and safety. They also found silver linings in ending on a high note.

Sheldon coach Joey Rollings focused on how his team inspired a community to keep them in the tournament, and how the Huskies reciprocated with a likewise effort, without practicing for three days.

"My kids never quit," Rollings told the Bee's Davidson. "We got to go out on an exciting note. We wish we could play another game, but we can't control that. Our kids seem to understand. They're disappointed, but kids are resilient." 

Richie had a similar message for his Dragons, who featured seven seniors.

"A lot of the kids were very upset," Richie said. "They're hurt. Disappointed. I tried to convey that they had a great season. It's disappointing it ended that way, but don't let things you can't control get you down. Besides that, when we focus on our last game, it couldn't have gone any better. If we played like that in the NorCal or state finals, we definitely would have had a shot."

Teams took their best shot at Sierra Canyon all season, Chevalier said. The Trailblazers had a giant "X" on their back from Day One.

Despite that target they finished 30-4, No. 15 in the final MaxPreps national rankings and won section and regional titles.

"It's always great to win your last game and the way we did was amazing," Chevalier said. "We would have loved to be able and play that last game to try to three-peat as state champion. But sometimes life takes priority over sport. We want our country and this world to be safe.

"All that said, going 30-4 this season, starting in China and going all over the U.S. with a big target on our back is a great testament to who we are as a team. I'm super proud of how they reacted to all they had to deal with, and then to play our best basketball at the end of the season was very special. It is a very special group."
High School Basketball: No. 12 Prolific Prep, Oak Hill Academy advance to GEICO Nationals quarterfinals - HIGHSCORE
High School Basketball: No. 12 Prolific Prep, Oak Hill Academy advance to GEICO Nationals quarterfinals
A pair of GEICO Nationals play-in games went down to the wire on Wednesday night as No. 12 Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) and Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) each advanced to Thursday's quarterfinal action.

In the opener, Prolific Prep escaped with a 45-43 victory over La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) despite an 11-1 Lakers' run to close the game. Stefan Todorovic split a pair of free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining before La Lumiere sophomore guard Jeremy Fears Jr. grabbed the rebound and drove the length of the court only to miss an off balance mid-range jumper from the left wing as time expired.

Five-star Oregon signee Nathan Bittle led the way for the Crew with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in the win. Chisom Okpara scored a game-high 15 points in the loss for La Lumiere (7-10).

Prolific Prep (31-3) faces No. 3 Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) (19-3) in tomorrow's 2 p.m. (ET) quarterfinal.

In a thrilling nightcap, Oak Hill Academy outlasted No. 15 Pace Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) 84-77 to snap the Knights' 28-game win streak.

The Warriors were paced by an outstanding performances from five-star sophomore Caleb Foster, who finished with 23 points, seven assists and three rebounds and three-star senior Camryn Carter who approached a triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Oak Hill shot 57 percent from the field.

Florida State signee Matthew Cleveland led Pace Academy (28-2) with a game-high 30 points and eight rebounds.

Oak Hill Academy (20-8) draws top-ranked Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) (21-1) in their 4 p.m. (ET) quarterfinal. The Eagles beat the Warriors twice this season by a combined 55 points.
Jalen Reed and Oak Hill Academy advanced to the next round in the GEICO Nationals with their 84-77 win over Pace Academy on Wednesday.
File photo by Annette Wilkerson
Jalen Reed and Oak Hill Academy advanced to the next round in the GEICO Nationals with their 84-77 win over Pace Academy on Wednesday.

High school football: Unconventional Arkansas coach that never punts lands college head coaching gig - HIGHSCORE
High school football: Unconventional Arkansas coach that never punts lands college head coaching gig
Kevin Kelley approached and accomplished things on the high school football field few have ever done. The Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, Ark.) head football coach announced Thursday he was leaving his post to take the same job at NCAA FCS program Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C.

The nine-time state champion has earned national attention for his statistical-driven, no-punt, high risk-high reward approach while piling up head-spinning numbers at the small (1,221 enrollment K-12), private, independent school in central Arkansas.

The 51-year-old's revolutionary offenses and methods were featured on segments of 60 Minutes, HBO's Real Sports and NFL Films and he once was a guest speaker at MIT. He was a pioneer of analytics in the high school game.

In 18 seasons, he boasted a record of 216-29-1 and was recently inducted into the Arkansas Hall of Fame.

His rise in fame coincided with the invention of numbers-driven MaxPreps.com and he quickly became the poster coach for entering team and individual statistics. His teams often ranked near or at the top of all offensive categories.
Kevin Kelley, Pulaski Academy
File photo by Rickey Miller
Kevin Kelley, Pulaski Academy
Among the Bruins' remarkable feats since 2004:

* Scoring more than 600 points 13 times and at least 700 seven times, topped out at 790 in 2019 and 789 in 2011.

* That 2011 squad was his only team to finish 15-0. Three other times the Bruins went unbeaten including his final season in 2020 (13-0), the only time they finished No. 1 in the MaxPreps Arkansas computer rankings. They finished ranked second in 2008, 2016 and 2019 and No. 3 in 2011.

* In all but one season (2009), they averaged more than 500 yards per game, while once clearing the 600-yard plateau in 2019. That year, they averaged a ridiculous 648 yards, 439 through the air and 209 on the ground.

* Average yards per game per year since 2010: 529, 537, 513, 556, 516, 581, 550, 571, 597, 648 and 579.

* Points per game since 2014: 50.2, 50.8, 47.8, 56.0, 50.2, 56.4 and 50.7.

* In a 2017 game, the Bruins pilled up what was then a national record 991 total yards during an 86-56 win over Little Rock Christian Academy. Layne Hatcher set a state record with 745 yards passing to go along with nine touchdown passes.

Hatcher is one of the most prolific passers the country has ever seen. He's the state leader with 15,483 career passing yards.  But Hatcher is not nearly alone among Kelley's pupils.

A 2020 story by MaxPreps senior writer and historian Kevin Askeland highlighted that Kelley has coached 12 of the top 100 single-season passing yardage marks in history.
Layne Hatcher, Pulaski Academy's record-setting quarterback in 2017.
File photo
Layne Hatcher, Pulaski Academy's record-setting quarterback in 2017.


High school girls basketball rankings: Four HIGHSCORE Top 25 teams comprise year-ending GEICO Nationals field - HIGHSCORE
High school girls basketball rankings: Four MaxPreps Top 25 teams comprise year-ending GEICO Nationals field
There's been so much written and said and broadcast about how different the past 12 months have been, but when it comes to basketball, the game is still the same.

And postseason is still postseason, with upsets, close games, controversy and, sometimes tears. Even the winners cry sometimes, but they also hang banners in the gym, and in the end, it doesn't matter if the banner was won during a COVID year or not. Players still had to perform, coaches still had to lead and fans still had to fret until the issue was no longer in doubt.

And in the same way, a spot in the MaxPreps Top 25 high school girls basketball rankings is something earned. Every team listed below earned its ranking on the court, playing the same game that teams ranked in the past did, and the same one that will be played next year and beyond.

Of course things might have been different without the pandemic, but "might" covers a lot of ground. What counts more is "achieved," and that's what all the teams in the MaxPreps Top 25 did – and there's no asterisk involved.

NOTE: Coaches and team personnel are encouraged to update schedules and results on MaxPreps – especially those in the mix for MaxPreps Top 25 consideration. For assistance or questions, please reach out to [email protected]
Tanajah Hayes, Zebulon B. Vance
Photo by Matthew Plyler
Tanajah Hayes, Zebulon B. Vance
MaxPreps Top 25 Girls Basketball Rankings

Record: 19-0 | Last week: 1
The GEICO High School Nationals will be in Fort Myers, Fla., just three hours away through the middle of Florida — so will Lake Highland Prep have any sort of home-court advantage? Not really, but then again, the Highlanders may not need it.

2. Westlake (Atlanta)
Record:
21-0 | Last week: 2
The unbeaten season, the No. 2 ranking and invite to the GEICO High School Nationals all were looking a little shaky at halftime of the AAAAAA title game — but then Westlake asserted itself and pulled away for a 64-46 win over pesky Carrolton.

3. Mount Notre Dame (Cincinnati)
Record:
28-0 | Last week: 3
The 72nd straight win and eighth state title did not come easy, as it took double overtime for the Cougars to tame No. 12 Newark in the championship game. The final was 57-55, so it was a nail-biter until the last horn sounded.

4. Hopkins (Minnetonka, Minn.)
Record:
13-0 | Last week: 4
Hopkins disposed of 14-win Becker with no problem, and now prepares for the AAAA playoffs — which won't begin until Friday. There's still a long way to go, though, as the state title game isn't until April 9.

5. Edison Academy (Detroit)
Record:
10-0 | Last week: 5
The Pioneers found fifth gear, it seems, as they beat two of the better teams in state by 27 and 20 last week. Wayne Memorial, another quality team, shows up on the schedule Saturday.

6. Incarnate Word Academy (St. Louis)
Record:
27-0 | Last week: 6
The Red Knights were pushed before slipping past Rock Bridge 46-42 in the Class 6 playoffs. Now, Staley is up in the semifinals. Should Incarnate Word advance, the winner of Webster Grove and Kickapoo would be next — and note that Incarnate Word has already beaten both.

7. Norman (Okla.)
Record:
19-0 | Last week: 8
After getting national headlines when an announcer used a racial slur while Norman knelt during the National Anthem, Union joined Norman in the next game in the pregame silent statement. Norman then slipped past Union 53-50 and knocked off Bixby in the 6A final to finish the unbeaten season.

8. St. John-Vianney (Holmdel)
Record:
14-0 | Last week: 9
Season complete.

9. Paul VI (Chantilly, Va.)
Record:
10-0 | Last week: 10
The Panthers could rise higher with a strong showing at the GEICO Nationals. With the top two teams in the field, PVI could make a strong claim for No. 1 by beating both.

10. DeSoto (Texas)
Record:
28-2 | Last week: 11
The Eagles were down 11 in the second quarter to previous No. 9 Cypress Creek, which hadn't played a close game all season. This one wasn't close either, as DeSoto went on a 45-18 run and finished with a 53-37 win to claim its first state title.

11. Grandview (Aurora, Colo.)
Record:
16-0 | Last week: 13
It's anticipated the Wolves, Valor Christian and Regis Jesuit will be three of the four teams in the 5A semifinals. Any of the three could easily wind up cutting down the nets. But it says here it's Grandview wielding the scissors.

12. Newark (Ohio)
Record:
28-2 | Last week: 12
You can't come much closer. The Wildcats came from four down in the last minutes to force the first overtime, scored at the buzzer to force the second, and then came up just one basket short after 40 minutes of play. Still, a great season, and a deserving No. 12 in the country.

13. Fremont (Plain City, Utah)
Record:
26-0 | Last week: 15
The Silverwolves got the call to make travel plans for Florida and the GEICO High School Nationals at the end of the month.

14. Princess Anne (Virginia Beach, Va.)
Record:
10-0 | Last week: 14
Season complete.

15. Cypress Creek (Houston)
Record:
32-1 | Last week: 7
The Cougars' 3-point touch evaporated at the worst possible time, and DeSoto's size took away points in the paint. The result? A disappointing 53-37 loss in the 6A finals.

16. New Hope Academy (Landover Hills, Md.)
Record:
13-3 | Last week: 16
New Hope finished on a high note, rolling over a good Westtown team, 86-53. And the head-to-head win over Montverde is why three losses is ranked ahead of two.

17. Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.)
Record:
21-2 | Last week: 17
Season complete.

18. Rutgers Prep (Somerset, N.J.)
Record:
13-0 | Last week: 18
Season complete.

19. American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.)
Record:
25-2 | Last week: 19
Season complete.

20. Chaska (Minn.)
Record:
12-0 | Last week: 20
For the Hawks to get that shot at No. 4 Hopkins — the regular season game was canceled because of a positive COVID test — the first step will be getting by 13-4 Minnetonka, which took Chaska to overtime earlier this year.

21. Hazel Green (Ala.)
Record:
36-1 | Last week: 21
Season complete.

22. Pius X (Lincoln, Neb.)
Record:
25-0 | Last week: 23
Season complete.

23. Crown Point (Ind.)
Record:
25-1 | Last week: 24
Season complete.

24. Zebulon B. Vance (Charlotte, N.C.)
Record:
12-0 | Last week: 25
Season complete.

25. Shawnee Mission Northwest (Shawnee Mission, Kan.)
Record:
23-0 | Last week: NR
Not only did the Cougars take care of 23-2 Topeka in the 6A playoffs for its first state title, the Jayhawk State's best also handed 4A champ and crosstown rival Bishop Miege its only loss.

Dropped out: No. 22 Bearden (Knoxville, Tenn.).
Chet Holmgren named 2020-21 HIGHSCORE Minnesota High School Basketball Player of the Year - HIGHSCORE
Chet Holmgren named 2020-21 MaxPreps Minnesota High School Basketball Player of the Year
Each year since 2006, MaxPreps has recognized outstanding performers in high school basketball. America's source for high school sports continues the tradition to close out the 2020-21 season by naming the top player in each state. Selections are based on team success and individual excellence, in addition to local and state accolades.

Chet Holmgren of Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis) is the 2020-21 MaxPreps Minnesota High School Basketball Player of the Year. The 7-foot senior center helped the Redhawks go 20-1 en route to their fourth straight state title.

Holmgren averaged 20.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.7 blocks and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 80 percent from the field.

The top-ranked senior prospect capped his prep career with 1,567 points, 964 rebounds and 456 blocked shots while Minnehaha Academy went 128-15 during his time with the program.

Gonzaga is considered the leader to land Holmgren, though Georgetown, Memphis, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio State remain in the mix.

Each state's MaxPreps Player of the Year will be considered for inclusion in the MaxPreps All-America Team, which is scheduled to be released April 13.
Chet Holmgren was part of four state championship teams at Minnehaha Academy going back to his eighth grade year.
Photo by Josh Johnson
Chet Holmgren was part of four state championship teams at Minnehaha Academy going back to his eighth grade year.