STOCKTON - St. Mary’s boys basketball fans will remember plenty of plays from Wednesday night. There’s Bryce Johnson’s emphatic dunk to bring the Rams within two in the third quarter, Jamar Marshall’s 3-point play to keep the game tied in the fourth or Tre Jenkins’ only bucket, a deep jump shot to give St. Mary’s the last lead of the night.
Maybe the biggest sequence of the game, however, came during a timeout at just under the 3-minute mark in the third, with the Rams trailing 36-25. St. Mary’s head coach Ken Green had one message for the team.
“It was a matter of do we really want to go home? Do we really want it to end?” Green said. “I think the guys looked at each other and said ‘we don’t.’”
Out of the break, the Rams rattled off a 14-3 run to finish the third knotted at 39-all, then battled their way to a 62-59 win over Sunnyside in the opening round of the CIF State Division II championship tournament.
Marshall had 22 points for St. Mary’s (24-8), with Carson Simi scoring 16 points and Bryce Johnson adding 15. No. 2 St. Mary’s will now host No. 10 Moreau Catholic at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Simi sunk a 3-pointer to open the game as the Rams started on a 7-0 tilt. But St. Mary’s' offense sputtered in the first half, and it trailed 26-21 at halftime.
Simply put, Sunnyside began the third quarter with more energy, and more momentum. A 10-4 run suddenly had the Rams facing an 11-point deficit with time running out in their season. But that key timeout seemed to knock St. Mary’s out of its funk.
“It was win or go home,” Johnson said. “We started to get that mentality going and play the basketball we knew how to play.”
Johnson was responsible for his own 4-point swing, starting with a put back on an offensive rebound and finishing with a fast-break dunk that brought St. Mary’s to within 36-34. Robert Chao hit a big 3-pointer to give the Rams their first lead since the second quarter, and Jenkins picked off a pass that turned into a Simi layup for a 39-36 advantage.
Sunnyside’s CJ Ayers hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to tie the game entering the fourth, and the Wildcats at one point led by as much as 55-50. But St. Mary’s came right back, with Marshall’s coast-to-coast basket and subsequent free throw on a foul during the next play bringing things to a deadlock once again at 55-all.
The teams traded points as the clock ticked down. With Sunnyside leading 59-58, Jenkins pulled up from deep inside the arc, hitting a jumper and giving the Rams a lead they wouldn’t give up.
“He couldn’t make a shot or free throw all night,” Green said. “But he hit a big shot, and he had the guts to take it. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
With 25 seconds left in the game, the Rams needed one more stop, and they got it. Marshall turned it into a fast-break layup at the other end, all but punching St. Mary’s ticket to the next round.
“Defense has been our calling card,” Green said. “As long as we guarding we’ll have a chance. That was the case tonight.”
St. Mary’s next challenge is Saturday, with things only getting harder from here. But, Johnson said, this is a team with a central focus in mind. Wednesday’s wild comeback was the latest proof of that mindset.
“We’re hungry,” Johnson said after the game. “We talked about what our goal was at the beginning of the summer. Now, we’re playing Rams basketball and playing for each other.”