They made it.
After two years of pandemic disruptions, high school athletes across the Bay Area reached the finish line for the 2021-22 school year last weekend, an achievement we no longer take for granted.
Fall, winter and spring seasons unfolded without postponed or canceled playoffs for the first time since COVID-19 changed our lives in March 2020.
It wasn’t completely the way it had been pre-pandemic – positive cases affected some teams and games – but the playoff calendar at the section, regional and state levels went on as scheduled.
And it was fitting that in baseball’s top NorCal division, St. Francis and De La Salle met on Saturday for a regional championship. It was those schools, after all, that got the school year rolling with a football game for the history books.
Let’s start there on our trip down memory lane.
Football: Game of the Year
No game meant more to high school football in Northern California than the one played on Sept. 10, 2021. De La Salle hadn’t lost to a regional opponent in 30 years when it traveled to Mountain View to play St. Francis. The unbeaten streak of 318 games ended when Nicolas Andrighetto caught a 16-year pass over the middle from Matthew Dougherty Jr. with 16.7 seconds left. Final: St. Francis 31, DLS 28.
LOS GATOS – NOVEMBER 12: Bellarmine celebrates after its dramatic win over Los Gatos in the CCS Division I playoffs on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
Football: Play of the Year
Bellarmine’s Thomas Di Vittorio broke Los Gatos’ heart when he intercepted a pass deflected near the line of scrimmage by linebacker Brandon Broch and returned it 94 yards for a touchdown with 43.6 seconds left to send the Bells into the Central Coast Section Division I semifinals with a 34-27 victory. Los Gatos was eight yards from breaking a 27-27 tie when Di Vittorio made the play of the season.
Football: Performance of the Year
In the most hyped game of the regular season, one that would decide the West Catholic Athletic League championship, St. Francis’ Viliami Teu rushed for a school-record 344 yards in 45 carries to lead the Lancers to a 44-21 rout at Serra. “He was pretty unbelievable, although we’ve watched him do amazing things,” St. Francis coach Greg Calcagno said.
St. Francis players and others lay on the field after sounds of gunshots outside the stadium caused a panic in the fourth quarter during the CCS Division I final against Serra at Westmont High on Nov. 26, 2021, in Campbell. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer)
Football: Scariest moment
The rematch between Serra and St. Francis, in the CCS Division I final at Westmont High in Campbell, was delayed more than half an hour late in the fourth quarter after gunshots were fired in the parking lot. The sounds sent some terrified fans in a stadium packed with more than 5,000 spectators running for cover. St. Francis players hit the deck on the sideline. Numerous Serra players ran off the field and up an embankment, until their coach, Patrick Walsh, told them it was safer to remain in the stadium. “It was chaotic,” Walsh said. Serra had just taken the lead with 2:18 left when the horrifying scene unfolded. When play resumed, Serra held on to win 16-12. Two days later, the Padres were selected to play Mater Dei-Santa Ana for the Open Division state title.
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – DEC. 10: Serra players read the lyrics to the song “When the Levee Breaks.” by Led Zeppelin during a team meeting held at JSerra Catholic High School on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Football: Behind the scenes with Serra
On the eve of the Mater Dei state title game, Serra’s Walsh allowed the Bay Area News Group in for a look at the team’s inspiring and intense chapel service. It was an eye-opening look at big-time high school football. “There is no place I’d rather be than right here, right now with this opportunity with this … team,” Walsh says, his voice rising with each word as he tells the team he isn’t afraid of anything.
Basketball: Game of the Year
Campolindo, the Bay Area’s top boys basketball team all season, trailed De La Salle by 10 points late in the third quarter of the North Coast Section Open Division championship game. But the Cougars, playing at home in Moraga, made their run and ultimately celebrated an epic 51-50 victory for their first section crown in 14 years. “We’ve won state before,” Campo star Aidan Mahaney said. “But this feels just as sweet. Been waiting for this moment for a long time, putting in a lot of work. To finally get this done means the world.”
MORAGA – FEBRUARY 25: Campolindo’s Logan Robeson, left, stops from celebrating to console De La Salle’s Johnny Semany after the North Coast Section Open Division championship game. Campolindo defeated De La Salle 51-50. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Basketball: Comeback of the Year
Pinewood was red hot as it faced top-ranked Archbishop Mitty for the CCS Open Division girls championship in Santa Cruz on Feb. 25. When the Los Altos Hills school, which beat Mitty for the Open title last June, surged to a 12-point lead early in the second half, a repeat seemed highly possible. But Mitty responded emphatically, turning the 12-point deficit into a 66-54 victory. The San Jose powerhouse went on to win the NorCal Open title.
SANTA CRUZ – FEBRUARY 25: (from left to right) Archbishop Mitty’s Elle Hanson, Haley Hernandez and Natalie Anderson cheer on teammates against Pinewood in the CCS Open Division championship game. Mitty won 66-54. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
Basketball: Performance(s) of the Year
Dougherty Valley fell short of winning the NCS Division I title, but Ryan Beasley certainly gave the school something to remember. In the semifinals, the junior scored 43 points as the top-seeded Wildcats edged Moreau Catholic 68-65. Beasley matched that total in the final, but Clayton Valley prevailed 76-71.
Baseball: Game of the Year
Maybe we’re a prisoner of the moment. But given the stakes, the schools and the drama, the final game of the season tops our list. St. Francis had a three-run lead and was three outs from the NorCal Division I championship on Saturday at De La Salle, to go with presumably the state team of the year by Cal-Hi Sports. The Lancers began the day ranked No. 1 in the state. But De La Salle, with help from two St. Francis errors, scored four runs in the home half of the seventh to capture the title 7-6 and extend its postseason win streak (NCS/NorCal) to 23 games.
Softball: Game of the Year
St. Francis didn’t have a lot of close calls this season, but it did in the CCS Open Division final against Archbishop Mitty. The Lancers erased a three-run deficit in the first inning and led by one in the seventh when Mitty tied the score on a home run by Corri Hicks. St. Francis won 6-5 on Syndey Stewart’s walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth. The Lancers went on to capture the NorCal Division I championship on Saturday.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – June 4: St. Francis celebrates their 6-0 victory over Clovis in the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Division I championship softball game, Saturday, June 4, 2022, at St. Francis in Mountain View, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Team of the Year
St. Francis softball. The Lancers finished 31-2, avenged one of their losses with a win over Sheldon-Sacramento in the NorCal regionals and had a 1-2 home run punch rarely seen on a high school softball field. Minnesota-bound Jessica Oakland hit 21 homers and Washington-bound Sydney Stewart had 15. The team finished with 58 homers and averaged 9.4 runs per game. The Lancers’ batting average was .434. The team completed the journey with a 6-0 win Saturday over Clovis for the NorCal Division I title. Monday, Cal-Hi Sports named St. Francis as its state softball team of the year.
A nice break. But the new school year will arrive soon enough, and we’ll be recharged and eager to tell the best stories.
Here are some early storylines for football:
De La Salle’s rematches: The two NorCal teams that beat the Spartans last fall, St. Francis and Folsom, visit the Concord powerhouse in September. St. Francis travels to DLS on Sept. 9 and Folsom does the same on Sept. 23. Leading up to those games, DLS plays host to Serra on Sept. 2 and travels to Cathedral Catholic-San Diego on Sept. 16. Serra, coached by former DLS star Patrick Walsh, was selected by CIF last season for the state Open Division championship game over the Spartans. Cathedral Catholic defeated Folsom for a state title the week after Folsom stunned DLS in a NorCal championship game. In other words, this should be one heck of an opening month at NorCal’s highest levels.
Pittsburg’s all-everything QB: Jaden Rashada is a five-star quarterback who has numerous major colleges knocking on his door. With plenty of talent around him, including Washington-commit receiver Rashid Williams, the senior will have an opportunity to lead Pittsburg deep into the postseason and maybe, just maybe, the program’s first state title. Rashada was unable to play when the Pirates beat Clayton Valley for a North Coast Section championship last season because of injury. He returned a week later for a NorCal title game on the road against Liberty-Bakersfield, but Pittsburg lost 35-7. No doubt, the Pirates and Rashada will view this season as unfinished business.
Opening night: The first Friday of the football season is Aug. 26. There are lots of hype-worthy matchups – Central Catholic-Modesto at St. Francis, Wilcox at Valley Christian, Bellarmine at Menlo-Atherton, Corona del Mar at Los Gatos, De La Salle at Monterey Trail. But here’s the biggest one of the night: Serra at Folsom.
We’ve got two words to sum it up: