NORTH NATOMAS — After senior point guard Malik Thames threw a lob, alley-oop pass to sophomore center Marquese Chriss with four minutes left in the Division I State Finals, fellow Pleasant Grove teammate Matthew Hayes snapped his fingers. The dunk was good, and Hayes was sure the Eagles locked up the victory.
The Pleasant Grove Eagles of Elk Grove (28-6) beat Santa Monica 73-57 at Sleep Train Arena to claim its first-ever boys basketball title. Hayes led the eagles with 19 points, four rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Thames finished with 16 points and six rebounds while Cole Nordquist had 13 points and nine rebounds.
The Eagles were already up 65-53 in the middle of the fourth quarter, though Santa Monica appeared to be threatening with an 8-2 run. As Hayes watched on a fastbreak, Thames and Chriss stuck in a dagger “alley.” The momentum was in Pleasant Grove’s favor.
“We went on that first run and went up by 20 (points),” Hayes said. (Santa Monica) came back to cut it to 11, but when we got that alley-oop, that’s when I felt the game was over.”
Pleasant Grove head coach John DePonte said afterwards that the Eagles didn’t play their best game. However, he stated that the team did more than enough to pull out the win. It was clear that Pine Grove absolutely had way more arsenal to work with than Santa Monica.
“At times they got the better of us on some of those matchups,” DePonte said of Santa Monica. “But our boys are very flexible when you try to figure out what we do and what are system is. But Marquese is tough to match up with, Cole is tough to match up with, Malik is tough to match up with, and we have perimeter shooting with Hayes. Yes, honestly, we had more weapons.”
Hayes, a senior, agreed with DePonte’s assessments.
“We are a great team as you can see,” Hayes said. “We have shooters, rebounders, and drivers…we have a lot of weapons and that’s why we came out with the victory. That was the only way that we could win. We had to do it as a team.”
The score was tied 10-10 in the first quarter until the Pleasant Grove Eagles went 15-10, completed by a basketball James Watson. Santa Monica cut the Eagles lead when Erron Vaughn scored to make the score 15-14. Hayes came back and drilled a 3-point shot to end the period with Pleasant Grove leading 17-14.
Pleasant Grove Grove opened up with a 19-9 run in the second quarter, topped off with a basket by 6-foot-6 center Thomas Fitzgerald that made the score 36-23. Pleasant Grove led 36-27 at the half. Hayes had 10 points and Norquist scored eight points in the first half for the Eagles.
Santa Monica managed to get within five points of Pleasant Grove’s lead in the third quarter, but the Eagles were not in the mood for a comeback. Especially when Pleasant Grove’s starting center Marquese Chriss had to sit down with three fouls and a tweaked right ankle. The Eagles built a 53-37 margin with 1:30 left in the third quarter after Matthew Smrekar made a layup.
Chris returned to start the fourth quarter and when he got back in the flow of the game, he did it with vengeance. Chriss made two free throws and a layup with three defenders hanging on him to extend the Eagles’ lead 60-40.
Santa Monica made another run to get as close as 62-51 on a dunk by Chris Smith in the final period, but Thames tossed an alley-oop dunk to Chriss to make Pleasant Grove’s lead 67-53 to dampen Santa Monica’s dreams of a state title.
After the game, while Pleasant Grove was taking team and individual photos, the state title trophy made it rounds among the teammates. A couple of the players took the pleasure in kissing their coveted prize despite the fingerprints and sweat. One reporter asked the players to take a photo with it before it got grimy. Cole Nordquist replied that the request was a little delayed.
“It’s already grimy,” Norquist said. “And we don’t care. We are state champions.”