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Sonora delivers the big blow in 3AA final
ANAHEIM – The coach gave the message to Steven Murphy months ago.
“We can’t win a CIF championship without you.”
Murphy was present, very present, Saturday. He scored 13 points, grabbed 13 rebounds – and some of those at the most critical moments – and blocked three shots for Sonora as the Raiders beat Gahr, 66-54, in the CIF-SS Division 3AA championship game at Honda Center.
It is Sonora’s third CIF-SS boys basketball championship. The Raiders won one in 1971, when future UCLA and NBA star Dave Meyers was on the team, and in 1983 when Jon Samuelson, father of all of those Samuelson sisters, including Mater Dei’s Katie Lou, was the Raiders’ star.
It was the first section championship for Mike Murphy, in his 25th year coaching the Raiders.
Or, as the coach put it, “I’m 1 for 29,” including four seasons coaching at long-gone Southern California Christian.
Murphy and Sonora (28-4) get a chance to add a state championship to the season’s achievements. They qualified for the CIF State tournament. Seedings and first-round pairings for the CIF Southern California Regionals, the qualifying tournament for the state finals, will be announced today. Regionals games will be played this coming week.
Sonora lost to Calabasas in the CIF-SS 2A final last year.
Steven Muphy, a 6-foot-6 senior center and no relation to the coach, scored Sonora’s first six points to keep the Raiders on pace with Gahr (25-7), which was equally quick and, early on, accurate on 3-point shots.
The Raiders were not successful at stopping Gahr guards from penetrating the lane.
“We couldn’t stay in front of those guards all the time,” Coach Murphy said. “If Steven didn’t block a shot he at least altered every one of those shots.”
Another of Sonora’s inside players, 6-6 senior Aashad Womack, scored eight of his 10 points in the third quarter to turn the ignition on the Raiders’ second-half rally.
Sonora took control of the game with a 16-0 run in the fourth quarter. The Raiders trailed Gahr, 51-44, with 6:45 to go. Christian Rhodes’ 3-pointer from the corner, on a fine kick-out pass from Ben Rico, tied it, 51-51, two minutes later.
Rico made a 12-foot baseline jumper to put Sonora ahead to stay, 53-51. Murphy scored inside off of a Rhodes pass, Josh Rodriguez made a breakway layup off of a Gahr turnover, Murphy made a clutch block at the other end, Rodriguez put in an 8-foot teardrop in the lane and Murphy made a free throw with 1:13 left for a 59-51 lead to complete the 16-0 rally.
Rhodes’ 3 that tied it was the confidence-lifter.
“Once I saw that shot hit the bottom of the net,” Rico said, “I definitely felt the momentum change. I’ve seen him make that shot 100 times in practice.”
Sonora shot 51 percent from the field. Gahr shot 29 percent and was 10 for 30 on 3-pointers. The Gladiators made 4 of 7 3s in the first quarter and were 7 for 10 behind the arc midway through the second quarter before cooling off.
Gahr’s Justin Smith was 4 for 5 on 3s and Marvin Bragg, who scored a team-high 15 points, was 3 for 5 on 3-pointers.
“That’s their game,” Coach Murphy said. “They shoot about 40 3s a game and at one point they were 7 for 10, and that’s impressive.”
Rodriguez scored a team-high 16 points with five assists. Rico scored 12 with 14 rebounds and four assists. Sophomore Kevin Marlow scored 10 points including three clutch 3-pointers.
The Raiders trailed at halftime, 34-29. Womack’s strong third quarter helped cut Gahr’s lead to one point going into the fourth quarter.
Coach Murphy said the play of Womack and Murphy were crucial to the outcome.
“A coach couldn’t ask for better guards,” he said of Rodriguez, Rico and Rhodes. “We know what we’re going to get from our guards.”
What they got from Womack and, especially, Murphy, took them to the CIF championship.
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