NORTH NATOMAS – In order to beat Deer Valley of Antioch and its 6-foot-10 senior Marcus Lee, Pleasant Grove of Elk Grove knew that its 6-foot-7 sophomore Marquese Chriss had to have a decent game on Sleep Train Arena’s floor.
Chriss had 10 points, eight rebounds, and two blocked shots against Lee and the Pleasant Valley Eagles beat Deer Valley 73-60 to claim its first ever NorCal Division I Regional title.
It was a collective effort from the Eagles (27-6), though Chriss’ work down in the post was indeed a big help. Lee averaged 18 points,19 rebounds and seven blocked shots coming into Sleep Train Arena on Saturday. But he was held to 10 points and missed all five of his free-throw attempts.
“If (Marquese) probably had a bad game it would have been way closer than it was or we still would be playing it,” said Pleasant Grove senior Malik Thames of Chriss. “He showed how good he really is playing against Marcus Lee who is going to Kentucky (on a basketball scholarship).”
Pleasant Grove knew Chriss came to play when they threw him an ally-oop pass on Lee. Chriss didn’t finish the play, though the attempt was forceful with confidence and nearly went in the basket. Chriss attracted Lee’s second foul early in the first half. Lee mostly played with four fouls in the second half.
“I told Marquese to keep playing aggressive and that aggressive led Lee to getting four fouls,” said Thames, who finished with 17 points, five rebounds, and two steals. “I told him to keep playing great, with high energy, great defense, and keep attacking him.”
Lee did manage to pull down 16 rebounds and blocked three shots in the game. Chriss right eye caught one of Lee’s elbow on one play. Chriss said he didn’t like that at all.
“I felt relaxed out there, but when he hit me with an elbow that built up my anger,” Chriss told The OBSERVER. “When I play angry…I play aggressive and that helps my team to do better.”
As matter of fact, the Eagles played beyond better. Almost flawless at the free-line. Pleasant Grove made 27 of 28 free throws. Cole Nordquist made 10, Thames had seven, Matthew Hayes made four, and Thomas Fitzgerald dropped two. Chriss was the only Eagle who missed at the charity stripe, making four of five.
“We all pretty much hit our free throws,” Thames said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Pleasant Grove had a nine-point lead after the first two quarters of play. Deer Valley roared back to tie the game 40-40 on a layup by Jeff Brown with 3:01 left in the third. Thames scored the the next two baskets for the Eagles to extend the lead by four, but held on to end the quarter 48-47.
The Eagles stretched the margin 59-51 until Deer Valley cut it down 61-58 on a basket by Nzuzi Webster at the 3:01 mark of the fourth quarter. From that point, Pleasant Grove closed the victory out with a 12-2 run. The Eagles also made their last six free throws to seal the deal.
The Pleasant Grove Eagles built up a 10-point lead and finished with a 36-27 margin at the half. Lee had a crowd-pleasing ally-oop, but only had four points on the only two shots he took for the Wolverines in the first half.
Hayes and Nordquist had nine and eight points, respectively for Pleasant Grove in the first half. Chriss, who wasn’t rattled by Lee’s 6-foot-10 frame, had six points and five rebounds for the Eagles before intermission.
Kendall Smith had 17 points and eight rebounds for Deer Valley. Webster scored 10 points and Mario Groins chipped in nine points for the Wolverines who finished with a 26-6 record.
Hayes led the Eagles in scoring with 20 points. Nordquist added 16 points, 12 boards, and three steals. Pleasant Grove will play Santa Monica at in the state finals at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, March 22.
NorCal Open Division Boys Regional
Sheldon High of Elk Grove had no answers, offensively or defensively, for Archbishop Mitty of San Jose’s All-American senior Aaron Gordon. Gordon, who has not decided what college he would attend next fall, had a performance March 16 that officially put him on the radar of many NBA teams.
Gordon had 29 points, 22 rebounds, and three blocked shots to help the Monarchs beat Sheldon 70-50 in the Norcal Open Division Regional at Sleep Train Arena. Gordon entered the contest averaging 22 points and 15 rebounds per game.
Antonio Lewis led the Sheldon High Huskies with 13 points and nine rebounds, but did get much help from its other star players. Dakarai Allen was had to eight points while D’Erryl Williams was held to seven points and Darin Johnson managed to get six points.
It appeared that the Monarchs was going to run away when they went up 26-14 over Sheldon. But the Huskies began to get their offense going and trailed 27-23 after D’Erryl made a 3-point shot late in the second quarter. Archbishop Mitty (29-4) led 29-23 at the half.
Gordon had 14 points, 11 rebounds, and one blocked shot in the first half for the Monarchs. Sheldon was 12-of-15 from the free-throw line, but shot 2-for-13 from the field in the first quarter and 3-for-12 in the second.
In the third period. Gordon, 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, showed why he’s an All-American. On a pick-and-roll play, Gordon loaded up with his right hand as if he had a slingshot, and then threw down a powerful dunk to make the score 44-28 with 2:08 left in the period. The Monarchs finished the third quarter with its biggest lead, 46-31.
Archbishop Mitty managed to wear out Sheldon in the fourth quarter. Gordon made a layup with 3:20 left to play in the game that made the Monarchs’ margin 61-41. The Williams-Johnson-Allen Show for Sheldon (32-4) was officially over. The Huskies were really done when Lewis missed a wide-open, fastbreak dunk with less than two minutes to go.
The Huskies beat Pleasant Grove of Elk Grove three times this season and was selected to play in the newly created Open Division because of their state ranking. Pleasant Grove will play for the state title in the Division 1 category against Santa Monica on Friday.
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Photos by Antonio R. Harvey