RICHMOND — The Salesian Pride were locked in. Demarshay Johnson Jr. was going to make sure everybody knew.
No. 2 Salesian (23-5) had jetted out to a 10-2 lead over St. Patrick-St. Vincent in the Tri County Athletic League championship game. Then, as St. Pat junior guard Jaden Alexander cut toward the basket, Johnson launched into the air, extending his full wingspan upward. Emphatically, he swung his right hand down and swatted the ball out of Alexander’s hands and onto the floor.
It was immediately apparent who had the upper hand Saturday night at De Anza High School, where Salesian took home another TCAL title with a 57-44 win over the Bruins (18-10).
St. Patrick-St. Vincent finished two games behind Salesian in the Rock Division standings. Less than two weeks ago, in their last matchup, the Bruins came within two points of delivering the Pride their only league defeat. The scare put coach Bill Mellis on alert.
“After the last game, we totally understood they could beat us and we had to get off to a fast start,” Mellis said.
In a coincidence that provided fans of both schools a convenient excuse to stake out spots for both championship games, the Salesian and St. Patrick-St.Vincent girls were the first to face off. As the girls headed into the locker room for halftime, they crossed paths for a moment with the boys teams arriving to the court.
The Bruin boys used the free court during intermission to begin warming up. But on the opposite side, Salesian kept to its corner in the bleachers. Some players stood and eyed their opponent. Locked in.
“We were just really focused tonight,” Mellis said. “It showed at the beginning of the game.”
The first quarter was a rollicking example of frenetic basketball at its finest. Salesian guard Shane Bell played lockdown defense to force a pair of steals and breakaway baskets. The lanky 6-foot-9 Johnson was swatting shots, then setting up his 6-foot-8, 275-pound counterpart, senior Te’Jon Sawyer, to do damage down low.
Then there were the remaining three quarters.
At one point in the second half, there was a two-minute stretch without a made basket. But it did have six missed shots, four offensive rebounds, two turnovers and a foul.
“I don’t know how focused we were as the game went on,” Mellis said, finishing his earlier thought with a laugh.
Salesian opened a 16-9 lead by the end of the first quarter, but it was a methodical process to extend it much beyond that. St. Patrick-St. Vincent’s Division I-bound center, Dishon Jackson, was a force to reckon with down low before he fouled out with 3 minutes to play. Alexander finished with a game-high 21 points, but 13 of them came at the foul line. It was emblematic of an offense that struggled to find open shots, or hit them when it did.
Salesian showed off its depth on the stat sheet. The Pride’s backcourt duo of Austin Johnson and Shane Bell tied for the team lead with 11 points each, but four others contributed at least six points each, too, including eight from Sawyer. When the final buzzer sounded, the senior class raised four fingers in the air — representing the four TCAL championship banners they’ve earned in as many years here. However, each of those has also ended with early exits in the Open Division regionals. Mellis is just happy to be heading into it with another league title under his arm.
“If we had lost tonight, who knows where we would’ve been seeded for the Open Division for NCS, maybe we would’ve been on the road,” he said. “It’s a lot different if you’re a champion.”
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