MORAGA — They’ve been the best team in the Bay Area all season, a collection of stars and role players who rise to the occasion when the moment is at its brightest.
It was tense and tense well into the second half of Friday night for the Dougherty Valley Wildcats as they attempted to add another championship to what has become a magical ride for the San Ramon School.
De La Salle persevered, as always.
But along the way, the top-seeded Wildcats did what they’ve done so many times this season.
They are closed.
Dougherty Valley captured the North Coast Section Open Division championship, defeating De La Salle 65-51 in front of a standing room only crowd at Saint Mary’s College.
When the game ended and the trophy was presented to the newly crowned champions, Coach Mike Hanson directed his players to the student section, who had done their part to lift the team to the championship of the first section of the program.
Soon the party turned into a mosh pit on the track.
“Unreal,” said center Landon Edmond. “We knew we were going to close it in the fourth quarter. Our coach kept saying we were closer and we did.”
Dougherty Valley was leading 52-47 with three minutes left when it found the extra gear to finish off the Spartans.
Aadi Malali buried a three-pointer from a corner kick to stretch the advantage to eight.
Then Blake Hudson, who had a momentum-igniting dunk in the third quarter, drove for two layups that widened the margin to 59-49.
On the other hand, when Hudson grabbed a rebound with less than a minute on the clock, the Dougherty Valley student section knew the game was over.
‘Start the bus! Start the bus”, the students chanted.
The Wildcats made six consecutive free throws—two by Ryan Beasley, two by Malali, and two by Connor Sevilla—to beat De La Salle by 14 points for the second time this season.
The Spartans (21-8) had hoped to erase the sting of Campolindo’s loss last season with a point in the Open final.
Instead, it was another painful result for the Concord school, especially since its star player, sophomore Alec Blair, barely played in the second half.
He was called for his third foul with 6:11 left in the third quarter and his fourth less than a minute later.
He returned with 6:17 left and De La Salle trailing by five.
Less than three minutes after being sent back into the game, Blair was out on a foul.
“It really hurt,” said De La Salle coach Marcus Schroeder. “We have to get better as a group. We have to get better. We have to play better. We have to play better in the second half. We let it pass us by again, just like we did at their home a few weeks ago.
“Believe them. They are really very good.”
Dougherty Valley (27-3) showed again how well, adding the section championship to the East Bay Athletic League title it captured two weeks ago and the league tournament crown that followed.
“It’s incredible,” Hansen said. “We opened the school in ’07 and it was like, ‘Are we ever going anywhere?’ You just keep believing and grinding.
“To win the Open in Dougherty Valley, first trip here, number 1 seed, it was special.”
Beasley led Wildcats with 21 points. Sevilla finished with 13, Hudson had 12 and Malali contributed with 10.
De La Salle had three players score in double digits: Billy Haggerty (14), Evan Wells (12) and Blair (11).
Dougherty Valley kept the score tight in the first half, even as Beasley committed two early errors.
The Wildcats held a 31-28 lead at halftime.
“I just play aggressively so I knew I was going to get fouls,” said Beasley. “I played smart for the rest of the game. I finished with two. So I didn’t make a mistake again.”
During the celebration, Beasley was lifted into the air with scissors.
The USF-bound guard ended the night by cutting down the net.
“It means a lot,” he said, recalling a loss in the NCS Division I Final last season. “To come back and win Open is important for us. It is also high time for our coaches. We’ve been through it all and we’ve got the dub tonight.