SACRAMENTO — Oakland Tech coach Leroy Hurt, a tall man in a purple shirt, kept telling his team to keep playing. The shots weren’t falling, the score was tight and a state championship was still up for grabs.
Hurt’s team might have been the favorite in the California Interscholastic Federation Division III final Friday against La Salle of Pasadena.
But with less than a minute to go at Golden 1 Center, only one point separated the teams.
Finally, the biggest of all shots fell for Oakland Tech.
Mari Somvichian, a junior team captain, swished a 3-pointer from the baseline to stretch the margin to four. Then sophomore Taliyah Logwood made a steal and fed junior Erin Sellers for an uncontested layup.
When the final second vanquished from the clock, Oakland Tech celebrated a 39-33 victory, the program’s fourth state championship in four trips to a final.
Oakland Tech captured Division I titles in 2004 and 2005 and a Division IV crown in 2019.
There were no state finals in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic, so the championship Friday was the second in a row for Oakland Tech.
“We haven’t lost a NorCal (playoff) game since 2018,” Hurt said. “We haven’t lost a CIF game since 2018. Not too many schools can say that.”
Friday, the NorCal Division III champs trailed 11-5 after the first quarter and 19-16 at halftime against an opponent that had won its previous 23 games. Oakland Tech closed the third quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 29-25 advantage into the fourth.
The Bulldogs didn’t relinquish the lead.
“What I told them is we’ll get some shots to fall, but this game is all about defense,” Hurt said. “We just said keep playing. The shots will fall. I didn’t know it would take Mari’s 3 late to really ice the game. That was late. But when we took the lead, I was comfortable that we could stop them. I just didn’t know if we would score or not.”
Sellers led Oakland Tech with 11 points. Sophia Askew-Goncalves, an imposing presence near the basket, added eight points and 12 rebounds. Logwood and Somvichian each finished with six points.
Oakland Tech finished with 10 steals — four by Logwood, three by junior Jala Williams — and forced 17 turnovers.
“We finished what we started,” Somvichian said. “So that was great.”
La Salle (31-3) suffered a significant loss in warmups when one of its top players, junior Ellie Chen, aggravated a knee injury and could not play.
Coach Scott Wiard said Chen had battled back from four injuries over the past year.
“Two-time all-CIF player goes down right before the game, that hurt,” Wiard said. “But our kids know that they can play without hurt and they competed for 32 minutes.”
Audrey Chen, Ellie’s younger sister, led La Salle with 13 points and Ryann Riddle chipped in with 10.
But it was Oakland Tech (21-11) that got the big shot late.
“They are good players,” Wiard said about Oakland Tech. “There’s a reason why they are in the state championship. Good players make good plays. That kid made a play there at the end.”
With the championship trophy in his program’s possession, Hurt made it clear in a postgame news conference that his team was misplaced in Division III, noting that its schedule was filled with powerhouses such as Archbishop Mitty, Salesian, Clovis West and Bishop O’Dowd (twice).
“We won D-IV three years ago, the very next year we won D-II (NorCal), didn’t get a chance to play (for state) because the world changed,” Hurt said. “We’re off last year and we come back and win D-III. Just so everyone in the room is clear. We’re a D-I school. We should be with the D-I teams. I have said it repeatedly.
“Three years ago, I sat on this same stage and said we haven’t done anything, so how can we complain. But now we have two state titles in four years. They need to put us where we deserve to be.”
Before he finished, Hurt had one more point to make: His team is the only NorCal public school to play this weekend for a girls’ state title.
“The kids have set something up here where we’ve won a few games, we have a great program going, we have two seniors (Marina Tanaka-Wong and Julia Basch), so we’re going to be strong next year, too,” the coach added.