The dream season continues for the Bishop Diego boys basketball team following its 59-50 victory Friday night over Vistamar.
The Brick House was rocking from start to finish, as the Cardinals (21-11), which entered the game ranked No. 10 in CIF-SS Div. 5AA, were able to outscore the third-ranked Vikings (25-4) by 10 points in the second half to reach their first CIF championship since 2011.
On multiple occasions following Friday’s win, Bishop coach James Coronado said his team is simply too young to know any better. With Austin Ziehl as Bishop’s only senior on a team otherwise led by sophomores, the Cardinals were unfazed by the more experienced Vikings squad, which had 10 seniors. Bishop had little issue with the Vikings full-court press defense, as freshman guard Bryan Trejo was able to run an efficient offensive attack in the early going before the Cardinals’ perimeter game caught fire.
Trejo scored eight of his 10 points in the first two quarters before Bishop drained four of its nine attempts from distance in the third to start to pull away.
“It’s just all about trust,” Coronado said. “Early in the season… it was looking bleak, but I challenged them to trust what we do.”
Over the past few weeks, Coronado said his team has finally started reaching the coaching staff’s expectations.
“To me, that’s a coach’s dream,” he said. “Before, I had to call timeouts and explain it to them, then I had to burn another timeout and explain it to them or we had to run in practice… But now, I think they finally get it and I think it’s the perfect time.”
The Cardinals led 9-7 after one and took a 15-9 lead with 6:20 left in the second quarter following a layup by Trejo. The Vikings fought back and both teams went back and forth before the visitors took a 24-23 lead at the break.
Despite making just one of their nine attempts from deep in the first half, the Cardinals continued to shoot with confidence. Trejo and junior Connor Streett said that Coronado encouraged them to continue finding open shots and moving the ball.
“We played in other games and after halftime we just blow them out,” Trejo said. “Coach just said to come out aggressive and press them a little bit and it would be over. That’s exactly what we did.”
Vistamar opened up a 30-25 lead two minutes into the third quarter before the Cardinals found their rhythm. Kai Morphy drained a three from the right corner before Tyler Williams hit a three of his own from the left wing. One possession later, it was Williams again from the left wing to give Bishop a 34-30 lead with 4:03 left in the third.
“There were a couple of times in transition we just didn’t find their shooters,” Vikings coach David Polett said after the game. “We had all the momentum to start the half… then let it get away from us and they went on that run. (We were) never really able to respond.”
With a raucous crowd behind its back, Bishop took a 40-35 lead with 1:12 left following a 3-pointer by Matthew Cunningham. On the next possession, Streett was able to keep a loose ball alive and Morphy knocked down a layup to give Bishop a seven-point lead.
“He’s tall and he’s long,” Morphy said of Streett. “He can get in there and get boards and crucial offensive boards.
“He knows his role and he plays it really well.”
The Cardinals took an eight-point advantage into the fourth and led by as many as 11 points in the final period, but the Vikings refused to give in.
A nifty spinning layup by Royce Samaniego cut the deficit to 56-47 with 2:10 left. After the Vikings forced a 10-second half court violation, Samaniego notched a hoop and the harm to make it a six-point game with 1:35 left.
“Royce has been one of our strongest players attacking the basket all year,” Polett said. “I thought he left it all on the floor tonight. I was really proud of the way he just relentlessly went to the hole.”
Streett scored on a floater with a minute left to push the lead back to eight with about a minute left. The Vikings were unable to muster up anymore offense before Streett split a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left to secure the win.
The Vikings tossed up a 3-point attempt on its next possession and Williams pulled down the board, dribbled to half court and tossed the ball in the air. The Bishop faithful stormed the court to celebrate the win.
Bishop will now take on Arrowhead Christian, which defeated top-ranked Valley Torah 60-45 Friday night. The Cardinals and Eagles will square off at Long Beach State next weekend. Game details are to be determined.
After a 7-17 season that left Bishop out of the playoff picture a year ago, the team has really bonded well. The players have great chemistry on the court and off, while Ziehl told the News-Press he continues to remind the young squad there is work to be done.
“All day I’m telling them we haven’t won anything yet,” he said. “It’s all about playing in the moment and playing hard.”
Even though Ziehl didn’t log a minute in Bishop’s victory Friday night, he continues to be vocal with his teammates.
“I don’t need to play for us to win,” he said. “As long as we’re winning, I’m okay with it. Whatever I can do to help us win, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Despite not having much playoff experience, Streett said the team continued to trust in each other, move the ball and find their spots on the floor.
“We obviously didn’t care as much about their seniors and we sent them home with a hard L,” Streett said.
The starting five for Bishop did all the scoring Friday night, with Cunningham leading the way with a team-high 16 points. Morphy and Williams each poured in 12, Trejo had 10 and Streett finished with nine points.
As the Cardinals look to cap off their playoff run, sophomore Marcus Chan said there is only one thing left to do.
“We’ve got one goal, and that’s to win,” he said, as he celebrated with the Cardinal faithful. “We’re going to make it happen.”