When asked how he thinks his Crusaders will stack up against Cloverdale in tonight’s North Coast Section Division-V championship game, St. Bernard’s girls’ basketball head coach Mark Gardner paused and said, “one of our girls asked me, ‘Does (Cloverdale) remind you of anyone we’ve played?’, and the more and more I think about it, Cloverdale reminds me of, well, us.”
It’s not a bad comparison.
Both teams feature dynamic, high-scoring guards in the back court and big bodies capable of controlling the glass in the post — a recipe which has guided both No. 1 St. Bernard’s (22-6) and No. 2 Cloverdale (25-4) to 20-plus win seasons and championships in their respective conferences.
“The game is going to come down to which team can play with a high level of organized aggression, and which team can stay composed,” Gardner said.
The Crusaders, led by guard Jasa Sisemore and center Emily Gardner will have to combat a Cloverdale squad led by junior Tehya Bird, the team’s leading scoring with a 20-plus points per game average, and forwards Kayli Persons and Marina Lopez who, between the two of them, put up around 20 points a night as well.
“I think we’re a balanced team,” Cloverdale head coach Rick Berry said. “It seems like every night we have a different leading scorer; a lot of girls on this team can step up on a given night.”
First time for the coach, not his team
Tonight’s title game will be an opportunity for Mark Gardner, now in his second season, to claim his first section title as head coach — but the same can’t be said for his players.
When the Crusaders last claimed a section championship at the end of the 2016-17 season with then-head coach Matt Tomlin, Sisemore, Emily Gardner, Marayah Tomlinson, Josie Petersen, Mackenzie Finck and Brenna Silvers were all either in the their freshman or sophomore seasons. Emily Gardner and Costa were also on the 2015-16 NCS championship team.
And that experience matters.
Emily Gardner, a sophomore on the 2016-17 team, averaged a team second-best 9.8 points per game while Sisemore, then a back-up point guard, averaged 4.5 points per game.
All of the aforementioned players saw floor time two years ago, an advantage they now carry into tonight’s game against a much younger Cloverdale which features seven sophomores and just one senior.
How they got here
St. Bernard’s doubled up No. 16 Branson 58-26 in the first-round of the NCS playoffs before silencing No. 9 St. Vincent de Paul 64-21 in the quarterfinals and holding off No. 4 University 38-35 in Wednesday’s semifinal round. If the Crusaders win tonight, it would be their fourth section title in five years.
Cloverdale beat No. 15 Roseland University Prep in its first-round game, No. 7 Bently 52-25 in the quarterfinal round and No. 3 Rincon Valley Christian 51-38 in the semifinals to advance to tonight’s section title game.