Senior Wesley Saunders helped his Windward team to victory in the state Division IV basketball finals Saturday. The Wildcats edged Salesian 63-57 to take the championship title at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento.
The team took to the court shortly after watching the Windward girls' team win their championship game.
"When they won, I knew we had to win, too," Saunders joked in the media room afterwards. "They gave us added pressure and motivation, but that was good."
Playing in his second state final game at the venue formerly known as Arco Arena, the Harvard-bound Saunders put on a show for the Windward faithful who made the six-hour drive in the rain in hopes of watching their teams sweep the Division IV crowns. They got their wish, as Saunders finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and three steals in Windward's 63-57 upset victory over Richmond Salesian (26-12), the North Coast Section champion.
"There were no surprises, we knew they were a great team, that's why they were here," Windward Coach Miguel Villegas said. "We have four players who averaged double digits in scoring this year and that makes you very difficult to beat."
Saunders was only a sophomore when he scored 21 points in the Wildcat's 69-53 triumph over Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame in the state Division V final two years ago and Saturday's performance was reminiscent of that.
"Two years ago, Wesley was unstoppable, last season he carried us and this year he has just blossomed," Villegas said of the Wildcats' star player. "Harvard will be very happy to have him next year."
Nick Stover and Jordan Wilson each added 13 points for Windward (27-8), which led 42-38 going into the fourth quarter. Stover sank his only three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 56-50 lead with 1:24 remaining. Richmond pulled to within 60-57 with 35.1 seconds left, but Wilson iced the victory with a pair of free throws with 25.4 seconds on the clock.
"My teammates found me in a good spot and I hit it," Stover said of his decisive three-pointer. "They have great players on that team, We knew what they had and we knew we had to play hard the whole game to win."
Last week Saunders was . Luke Silverman-Lloyd had eight points and three assists. Windward helped its own cause at the free throw line, making 17 of 21 attempts.
The Wildcats played with heavy hearts all season, dedicating their games to 2008 Windward graduate Daniel Tan, a member of the junior varsity basketball team his sophomore year. On January 12, Tan died of a neurological disease called Neuromyelitis Optica.
"We had some tough [game] losses early but this just shows the resilience of our team," Villegas said, fighting back tears. "The kids went to see Dan in the hospital before he passed away and this one's for him. It's dedicated to the man looking down on us."
The Pride was led by sophomore forward Jabari Bird, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds. Salesian won the Division IV state championship in 2009.
Patch is delighted to highlight the work of Windward School's journalism class - the possible future writers and editors of tomorrow. You can read the journalism students' review of the game on their own site, The Windward Bridge, here.
Windward 63, Salesian 571 2 3 4 F
Windward13 14 15 21 63 Salesian 10 16 12 19 57 Individuals — (fgm-fga ftm-fta tp) Windward Dawson 4-6 3-4 12, Stover 5-10 2-2 13, Saunders 5-11 5-7 15, Wilson 4-7 4-5 13, Silverman-LLoyd 2-5 3-3 8, Gueno 1-2 0-0 2, Walker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-41 17-21 63. Salesian Dunn 2-5 1-4 5, Artis 3-16 2-2 10, Mize 5-8 0-0 11, Bird 8-18 0-0 23, Tagaloa 2-5 2-2 6, Harrison 1-2 0-0 2, Leonard 0-3 0-0 0, Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, Edmonds 0-2 0-0 0, Parker 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-62 10-14 57. 3-point goals: Windward - Dawson, Stover, Wilson, Silverman-Lloyd. Salesian - Artis 2, Tagaloa 2, Mize. Records: Windward 27-8, Salesian 26-12 State Championship, Division IV, boys basketball, 3/26/2011 at Power Balance Pavilion, Sacramento