SACRAMENTO — D’Angelo Finley wasn’t with Weston Ranch a year ago when the boys basketball team was handled by rival Sierra in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals.
That didn’t make the victory any less sweet for the senior guard last Friday when he scored 19 points and helped the Cougars redeem themselves with a 69-57 win over Manteca at Sleep Train Center. Anthony Booker and Finley bolstered an already-talented team that yearned to wipe past failures from its memory, and the Cougars may have not been able to do so without the aid of the two senior transfers.
Weston Ranch (27-4) resumes postseason play this Saturday in the second round of the CIF State Division III Northern California Regional Championships. The No. 1-seeded Cougars await the Vista del Lago-Bishop O’Dowd winner.
“These guys made it here last year and obviously they didn’t get the result that they wanted,” Finley said Friday night. “With that happening, coming into today I wanted to make sure that I did everything that I could that they did not get the same result as last year.
“I know that they felt the heartbreak, and I did not feel that personally, but I felt the weight of it through the season. I felt the gravity of what this win means to us.”
Booker, a 6-foot-10 center heading to CSU Monterey Bay, arrived from Chavez of Stockton, giving the Cougars the size they sorely lacked last season. Finley was an established standout from Foothill (Pleasanton), a multi-faceted guard cut from the same cloth as teammate Fred Lavender. Third-year veterans Jaelen Ragsdale and Josh Dilg complete a well-rounded starting five that thrives with unselfish play and is complemented by key role players off the bench.
“You’ve got to be hiding under the rock if you don’t see that there’s a team in NorCal that wins with versatility, depth and pace of play,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan said, referencing the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. “That stuff wins. We just try to put our players in similar positions.”
Finley was Weston Ranch’s third-leading scorer at 14.4 points per game in the regular season, and at one point coach Chris Teevan called him the team’s most valuable player because of his all-around production.
In four Sac-Joaquin Section playoff games he averaged 16.5 points per game, and in the title round he posted 14 of his 19 points in the second half while Lavender was forced to sit out most of the of the final two periods because of foul trouble. Finley scored another 19 points in the Cougars’ second-round win over El Camino, but his most important contribution may have come on a night in which he struggled to get shots to fall offensively. Against Placer in the semifinals, Booker and reserve center Jordan Strane were both benched with four fouls midway through the third quarter, and Finley was assigned to defend 6-8 standout Jeremy Lillis (14 points, five rebounds).
“That versatility wins games for us,” Teevan said following the 76-61 victory at Galt High.
Size also helps.
Enter Booker, whose dominant effort on the defensive end helped Weston Ranch pull away in Friday’s championship game. He finished with 13 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks, but most importantly he held Manteca’s 6-9 Anand Hundal to just two points and six rebounds — well off his regular-season averages of 16.2 and 9.4.
Teevan revealed during the postgame press conference that Booker played with a partial tear in a patellar tendon, dispelling any notion of him being a ‘soft’ player.
“We didn’t even know if he was going to play tonight as of this time (Thursday night),” Teevan said. “He got some good treatment and was ready to roll.
“For a kid coming into our program who was labeled as soft and unfulfilled, he’s not a role player. He’s not depth. He’s a college player — a good player.”
And he’s a champion.
“It feels great,” Booker said. “We just wanted this so bad, and for it to finally happen it was a dream come true.”