It has been quite the wild ride for the Bishop Diego boys basketball team.
Just two months ago, the Cardinals were an incomplete team. With a pair of transfers with pending eligibility and several key rotation players absent with injuries, Bishop (20-11) struggled its way through tournaments in Ojai, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. At one point, coach James Coronado actually apologized to the News-Press for his team’s performance.
Since then, much has changed. The Cardinals welcomed the additions of Tyler Williams and Brian Lopez to the rotation. Kai Morphy and Connor Streett got healthy, while Matthew Cunningham returned to the lineup after missing several games due to personal reasons.
The Cardinals went on to finish tied for second place in the Tri-Valley League with a record of 5-3 before going on their playoff run. They stormed past AGBU 81-48 in the first round, defeated de Toledo 65-58 in round two and upset an Estancia team that had won 19 straight games, 49-46, on Tuesday night.
Bishop, which is ranked No. 8 in CIF-SS Div. 5AA, will take on fourth ranked Vistamar this evening, marking the first time since 2014 that Bishop has reached the CIF semifinals.
Coronado credits his players for finally buying in.
“It’s been crazy,” he told the News-Press following Tuesday’s win over Estancia. “We were just building and building. It wasn’t easy, but I could tell these guys started to realize what we wanted, and what we wanted was the same thing.”
The Cardinals took their licks last year. They went 7-17 overall and 2-6 in the Tri-Valley League, with four sophomores and four freshmen in the rotation. The team was able to use that experience to learn from their mistakes.
Cunningham and Morphy have been relied upon heavily to supply offense and neither player has disappointed. Cunningham has notched multiple 20-point performances this year, while Morphy’s late game heroics earlier this week helped the Cardinals advance. Williams has provided versatility on both sides of the ball, with Coronado pointing to something you may not find in the stat sheet.
“He thinks it’s scoring, but more than anything it’s toughness,” Coronado said. “He’s one of those guys that I can give him that shake of my hands and say ‘let’s go’ and he goes. Sometimes it takes a while, but he gets it.”
During a preseason interview, Coronado described several of his players as “mismatch nightmares,” and the squad has lived up to the billing. With several players standing taller than 6-feet who can face up and shoot from the outside or get by you with crafty ball handling and speed, Bishop has been able to rely on several different players on any given night. They are also extremely versatile defensively, which will be key in tonight’s game against the Vikings (25-4).
The Cardinals will look to slow down Vistamar’s Collin Dean, who had 20 points on six 3-pointers in the Vikings win over Thacher earlier this week. Jaylen Brewer had 17 points and Royce Samaniego added 10.
This will be the first ever CIF semifinal for the Vikings, who field an experienced squad. They have 10 seniors, compared to just one for the Cardinals.
It will surely be a raucous night at the Brick House, with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m.