What made Bay Area prep sports year so memorable: Our writers share their stories.

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webnexttech | What made Bay Area prep sports year so memorable: Our writers share their stories.
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Well, that was quite a ride. The 2023-24 high school sports year has come to a close, and what a nine-plus months it was. Starting in August with football season that included Acalanes’ state title and ending this month with Amador Valley’s stunning NorCal Division I softball championship run, the school year had a little bit of everything. From a fall that had more regional football dominance by Serra and San Ramon Valley’s oh-so-close overtime loss to De La Salle to a winter highlighted by Salesian’s run to the Open Division state boys basketball final and a spring underscored by an all-time great Granada baseball team, the memories are endless. As we close the book on the school year, let’s take a look at some of the moments that made it so incredible to cover: A SPECIAL DAY AT KEZAR When I visited my parents last summer, my dad and I watched a classic San Francisco movie, “Dirty Harry.” If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Clint Eastwood chases down Scorpio in Golden Gate Park and ends the sequence by arresting the villain at the then home of the 49ers, Kezar Stadium. Fast-forward a few months, and I JUMPED at the opportunity to cover Pittsburg vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral at a smaller but still historic Kezar in the heart of The City. I didn’t see inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan solving a case for SFPD, but I did get to watch Pittsburg’s Marley Alcantara and Jadyn Hudson ball out on real grass. A memorable experience. – Joseph Dycus FOOTBALL: TWO CLASSICS ON SRV’S FIELD One of the storylines going into last football season was about De La Salle. Would this finally be the year the Spartans lose to a team from their own section? San Ramon Valley gave it a great shot on Oct. 13, overcoming a 15-point deficit at home in the final four minutes to tie the score and then missing a field-goal attempt at the end of the regulation that would have won it. De La Salle survived 33-27 in overtime on its way to extending its unbeaten run against North Coast Section teams to 33 years. On the same field a month later, SRV built a 21-0 first-quarter lead over Campolindo in the opening round of the NCS playoffs but watched it completely dissolve as the visitors took a late seven-point advantage. After SRV pulled even, Campo missed a field-goal try that would have won it in regulation. SRV prevailed in OT 38-31. – Darren Sabedra MOUNTAIN VIEW: UPLIFTING SUPPORT AFTER TRAGEDY Reporting on high school sports isn’t all fun. When news broke that Mountain View football parent Lucinda Daniels was not expected to live after collapsing during a game, the BANG sports department worked to cover the heartbreaking story. Lucinda died less than a week after suffering a stroke, leaving behind a family that included two football players in the Mountain View program. Dillon Daniels, a senior running back, had broken his leg the same night his mother collapsed. He was honored last month with a REACH Youth scholarship as part of the San Jose Sports Authority’s long-running program that recognizes high school athletes in Santa Clara County who have overcome adversity through sports. The $7,500 scholarship that Dillon received was from the Intero Foundation as a Dwight Clark Achievement Award winner. If there’s any kid who deserved a scholarship, it was Dillon. – Joseph Dycus MY WILDEST SATURDAY EVER So you want to be a high school sports reporter? Here’s how Saturday, Nov. 25 went for me: I spent a few hours at Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd in the afternoon to cover a season-opening basketball showcase and and then drove crosstown to McClymonds as the sun set to talk to football coaches Michael Peters and John Beam before Mack won yet another Silver Bowl. From there, a quick trip through the Caldecott Tunnel to Lafayette, where I took photos and watched some of Miramonte’s North Coast Section Division V football championship victory. I could only stay for a quick minute, though, because I had to boogie down to Dublin to help cover De La Salle’s basketball showcase victory over Centennial-Corona. Once I got back to the apartment at 10 p.m., I helped write three stories and uploaded photos well past midnight. It was hectic, stressful and a whole lot of fun. – Joseph Dycus FOOTBALL: ACALANES RISES FROM CRUSHING DEFEAT Acalanes was a half-quarter from its first outright league championship in 42 years. The victory would come at its rival’s expense. Campolindo trailed the regular-season finale at Acalanes by 14 points. But the celebration that night would belong to Campo as the Cougars staged a late rally, scoring 15 unanswered points to win 25-24. Campo claimed a share of the league crown with Acalanes and Las Lomas and qualified for the playoffs. Acalanes was stunned, yes, but not out. The Dons went on to win section, regional and state championships, completing the trifecta with a rally of their own. Acalanes overcame a two-touchdown deficit to beat Birmingham of Lake Balboa 35-23 in the CIF Division 3-AA championship game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. Paul Kuhner scored the final TD on a pass from Sully Bailey. “This is what we wanted to do since Day 1,” Kuhner said that day. “Through the ups and downs, just catching that ball, it meant the world.” – Darren Sabedra GUNN BOYS STUN PALY IN EPIC HOOPS BATTLE Records don’t matter in rivalry games, and Gunn’s 65-63 overtime victory over host Palo Alto on Feb. 3 was the perfect example of that. The Titans had every right to fold down the stretch after leading scorer Ethan Kitch fouled out, but the visitors kept it together and then won on a last-second tip-in by Advaith Krishnan. Gunn’s players cut loose in the locker room postgame, and then lingered long after the final buzzer to soak in the victory. It was a great reminder that sometimes, the best games aren’t always the ones between powerhouse programs. – Joseph Dycus NIGHT LOS GATOS, SANTA TERESA PUT ON A HOOPS SHOW There are numerous thrilling games during the school year. For me, this one was right near the top of my list. It was a Central Coast Section Division I boys semifinal between Los Gatos and Santa Teresa at Fremont-Sunnyvale. There were ebbs and flows all game, points piling up fast and furious. Los Gatos won 82-80 in OT behind 31 points from Scotty Brennan, son of former San Jose State and now Arizona football coach Brent Brennan, who was in attendance. “Those were two very high-level high school basketball teams, public-school teams playing for a shot to play for a CCS championship,” ST coach Patrick Judge said afterward. “I couldn’t be prouder of my guys.” – Darren Sabedra HOOPS: PIEDMONT’S NATALIA MARTINEZ DOES IT ALL There was never a dull moment watching Piedmont’s Natalia Martinez light up the scoreboard. The San Diego State commit averaged 30 points per game this past season and dropped 52 on San Diego’s Scripps Ranch in a tournament in December. Martinez’s ability to shoot from practically anywhere on the floor made her special, but that wasn’t her only high-level skillset. A gifted passer, Martinez reveled in getting her teammates involved just as much as she did putting the ball in the hoop. Piedmont finished 20-8 and reached the NCS Open Division and CIF NorCal Division I playoffs. – Nathan Canilao SRV GIRLS HOOPS SURVIVE CARONDELET’S CHALLENGE Sometimes, the best basketball games aren’t the ones with gaudy point totals or flashy offensive highlights. San Ramon Valley beat Carondelet 46-39 in an uber-physical regular-season game, and then captured the NCS Division I title a little over a week later when the Cougars missed several shots at the buzzer to end the rematch. Every shot, dribble and pass had to be earned. It was a great basketball to watch, even if neither team lit up the scoreboard. – Joseph Dycus HOOPS: OAKLAND VS. OAKLAND TECH, THE SEQUEL If we’d written this recap last season, the 2023 NorCal Division III barnburner at Laney College would’ve been at the top of the list of favorite memories. The Division II sequel between Oakland’s best teams had a lot to live up to … and it did. With Damian Lillard cheering on his Oakland Wildcats, ArDarius Grayson helped host Oakland Tech get the last laugh. In front of a standing-room-only crowd, there were crazy layups, terrific shotmaking, defensive stops and a memorable fourth-quarter comeback. Tech won 73-66 and then completed the season with a Division II state championship. – Joseph Dycus HOOPS: SALESIAN VS. RIORDAN LIVES UP TO HYPE The line outside Contra Costa College’s gymnasium stretched around the block two hours before tip-off of the NorCal Open Division regional final between Archbishop Riordan and Salesian. With Division I talent all over the floor that night in San Pablo, and a spot in the stare final on the line, the game exceeded expectations. Riordan took a double-digit advantage in the third quarter behind dominant play from center Nes Emeneke, but Salesian came storming back late. The Pride held the San Francisco school to just six points in the final eight minutes and won the crown 49-44 – the school’s first Open Division title since the premier division was added in 2013. Salesian went on to fall to Harvard-Westlake in an epic state final, 50-45. — Nathan Canilao BRANHAM SAGA SHOWS PASSION BEHIND PREP SPORTS Reporting on the Branham athletics saga kept going and going – and still might not be over. When Landon Jacobs was told by the school’s administration in March that he would be relieved from his position as athletic director, there was a collective outrage within the San Jose’s school’s sports community. A petition calling for Jacobs’ reinstatement received more than 1,500 signatures and hundreds of Branham athletes, coaches and parents attended multiple Campbell Union High School District school board meetings to urge the district to give the administrator his job back. The public might never know the full story why Jacobs was let go, but the fight to retain a man who led Branham’s athletics program to eight Central Coast Section championships and 57 league titles showed just how much people value high school sports in their community and the lengths they will go to defend someone who has given athletes an avenue to succeed. – Nathan Canilao BASEBALL: AN NCS FINAL FOR THE AGES After covering the epic NCS Division I title game between Granada and De La Salle, I had to ponder whether I witnessed the East Bay powerhouses playing cricket instead of baseball. Two of the top teams in the Bay Area battled it out in a game that lasted 14 innings and stretched across two fields, two counties and two days. In the end, A.J. Martinez’s walk-off hit captured the crown for the Livermore school 1-0 – its first section title in school history – and snapped De La Salle’s 33-game postseason winning streak. Granada went on to beat De La Salle again in the CIF NorCal Division I regionals and ultimately won that championship, too, beating St. Mary’s-Stockton 6-4. — Nathan Canilao AMADOR VALLEY SOFTBALL GOES ALL THE WAY I covered dozens of sporting events during the 2023-24 school year, but none – and I mean none – were as dramatic as the last game I did. Amador Valley traveled from Pleasanton to El Dorado Hills in the Sierra foothills to complete its storybook run from eighth seed to NorCal Division I champions with a 13-11 victory that I will never forget. The nine-inning marathon featured nine lead changes, 29 hits and four extra-inning home runs. Every time I thought the game – and the school year – was over, Amador Valley or Oak Ridge would find a way to improbably extend the game. There was no better way to end a great school year. – Joseph Dycus

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