The Mercury News Weekend
Oakland Tech has backed up talk, is on the cusp of D-I championship
Oakland Tech girls basketball coach Leroy Hurt called his team's opportunity to win a Division I state title “unprecedented” after it went on the road and defeated No. 1 seed St. Mary's-Stockton on Tuesday night. Not even a herculean 47-point performance by St. Mary's star Jordan Lee could derail Oakland Tech.
However, even though Hurt used the word “unprecedented” to describe Tech's appearance in Sacramento, one could hardly call it all that surprising.
After all, Hurt's Bulldogs had spent the previous three tournaments dominating the lower levels of competition.
Tech won state in Division IV in 2019, took NorCal's Division II championship during the 2020 tournament that was cut short due to the pandemic, and was crowned state champions in 2022's Division III bracket.
After wrapping up its 2022 title, Hurt publicly declared his opinion that the Bulldogs should play in Division I, and then scheduled perennial powers such as Archbishop Mitty, Salesian, Carondelet, San Ramon Valley, Pinewood and St. Mary's-Stockton to prove his point.
“We've been working all four years to make it here,” said senior Sophia AskewGoncalves.
Tech defeated Division I teams Salesian, Carondelet and Pinewood in the regular season, but dropped a couple of games against St. Mary's, which gave the Stockton school the No. 1 seed in the bracket over Tech.
Tech brought a playofftested lineup into NorCal play. Guard tandem Erin Sellers and Mari Somvichian have both shined in the biggest games, and Nia Hunter, Jada Williams, and Jala Williams all bring playoff experience as seniors.
If there were any questions about Tech's ability to perform at the highest level of competition, those doubts have been erased over the last two weeks. McClatchy-Sacramento, Pinewood, and San Ramon Valley were all dispatched by double-digit margins.
“If I lose these games, the world will get mad because I've already beaten them,” Hurt said after the Pinewood game.
Up next is Santiago-Corona tonight at 6 p.m. in Sacramento's Golden 1 Center. Santiago is led by senior McKinley Willardson, who scored 24 in the team's 5239 victory over Del NorteSan Diego in the SoCal championship.
“We've been able to turn the tide but it's been about waves, and we're just enjoying that wave right now,” Santiago coach Mike Mitchell told The Press-Enterprise, referencing the team's 0-10 league record in 2016-17.
The teams are well acquainted with one another, having played in a late-December holiday tournament. Tech won 62-57 on a night where eight Tech players scored at least four points.
If Tech can come out on top, it will be the Bulldogs' first Division I title since current athletic director and former WNBA player Alexis Gray-Lawson led the school to back-to-back championships in 2004-05.