For the fourth time in five years the St. Bernard’s girls’ basketball team will hang a section banner up in Crusader Gymnasium.
For Emily Gardner, Maddie Costa and Sarah Regli, Saturday’s 56-36 win over the visiting No. 2 Cloverdale Eagles in the North Coast Section Division-V championship game marks their third section title, completing a remarkable run for the trio of 4-year varsity seniors.
“After we lost in the championship last season we really wanted to come back and win it this year,” Gardner said. “It’s just amazing to have had my sister with me this year and my dad coaching.”
For second-year head coach Mark Gardner, who had a smile as big as anyone in Crusader Gymnasium while cutting down the nets, Saturday’s championship win is his first — and having his daughters Emily and Sabrina there to share it with him will, regardless of how many more titles he may be a part of, make it the most memorable one.
“It’s just so special; I’m a lot more emotional right now than I thought I would be,” Mark Gardner said. “Watching my daughters go up and get their medals, it just means so much. I’m just so proud of this team, they earned this.”
No. 1 St Bernard’s (23-6) let Cloverdale (25-5) hang around for the first four or so minutes of Saturday’s game as the Crusaders held an 8-4 lead midway through the first.
And then Emily Gardner got ahead of a few Cloverdale defenders for an easy transition layup, Costa followed with a 3-pointer on the Crusaders’ following trip down the court and just like that, the route was on.
The Crusaders outscored the Eagles 9-4 over the latter half of the first quarter to take a 17-8 lead into the second before really pulling away from the visitors and beginning the countdown to the awards ceremony.
Senior Jasa Sisemore, who picked up her second NCS championship with the win, got to the the basket early and often in the second quarter and put up five quick points as her team quickly grew a 9-point lead into a 20-point one, 28-8, not before four minutes had elapsed in the period.
Cloverdale failed to hit a field goal in the second quarter until under two minutes remained in the half. The score, a 3-pointer from Alyssa Moffett, cut the Crusaders’ lead to 29-13.
It would be as close as Cloverdale would come for the remainder of the game as Mackenzie Finck forced a turnover with less than 20 seconds remaining in the half and found a wide open Sisemore for a quick layup, sending the home team into the break with a cushy 31-13 lead.
Cloverdale’s Maci Hernandez, the team’s tallest player and the only real threat defensively for Emily Gardner, picked up two quick fouls inside the first three minutes of the game and another two within the same time frame to start the third quarter, effectively taking herself out of the game and leaving Emily Gardner mostly free to dominate the paint.
The senior seized on the opportunity, recording two blocks and eight of her 13 points in the first half. Sisemore led the way for the Crusaders in the first half, scoring 11 of her game-high 17 points in the first two quarters.
In terms of shooting, Cloverdale made just three field goals in the first half and 10 overall in the loss as 20-plus points per game scorer Tehya Bird was held to 14 points, a team best.
The Crusaders spent the second half nursing a double-digit lead which at its largest showed the home team ahead 42-14 near the end of the third quarter.
Emily Gardner and Sisemore, dependable scorers game in and game out for the Crusaders, came up big once again for the home team in Saturday’s win.
But where the Crusaders truly excelled was in the play of their role players, Costa, Josie Peterson and Finck.
Costa, who has been at times this season a 3-point threat, was certainly that Saturday night. The senior hit three treys and finished with 12 points. Finck, a quality defender, played perhaps her best game of the season in the win, forcing a number of turnovers and getting it done offensively as well with eight well-earned points. Peterson likewise played one of her best games of the season, showing to be a stalwart defender and additional scoring threat against Cloverdale.
In other words, it all clicked at the right time for Mark Gardner’s group.
“It’s amazing when it all comes together,” Mark Gardner said. “Every girl on this team stepped up and delivered when we needed it most tonight.”
The Crusaders will not have long to celebrate their championship victory as the brackets for the NorCal State Championships are set to be released Sunday with games starting as soon as Tuesday. The Crusaders last won a NorCal title in 2016 under then-head coach Matt Tomlin, who guided the Crusaders to back-to-back NorCal championships in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, as well as three straight NCS D-V titles from the 2014-15 season through the 2016-17 season.