Bang, squeak, and swoosh—that’s all you could hear inside the gymnasium at Oakland High School, as the teams that were getting ready to compete in the Oakland Athletic League (OAL) basketball finals took over the court. Fans lined up to buy nachos, hot dogs and drinks before tip-off, and the smell of the food wafted across the gym. It was a full house, with approximately 150 people in attendance, and students from the competing schools dressed in their team’s colors chanting from the stands.
The players began to warm up on the court with a sharp focus. Their eyes locked on the basketball hoop: like a sniper in the woods, they would pull the trigger and make a clean practice shot. Other players displayed cheetah-like speed, driving to the rim of the hoop, and bouncing the ball off the backcourt and cleanly into the net.
Minutes before the game, the players took to the locker room to discuss final strategies and clear their minds, in hopes of winning a championship title that evening. For many them, it was more than just about winning the OAL. This was about which team was going to move one step closer to state, or the California Interscholastic State playoffs, where the best basketball teams in California compete. The ongoing playoff series will cumulate March 23rd and 24th at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Now the stage was set and the starters for each team were on the court. The first matchup featured the Oakland High School Wildcats versus the Oakland Technical High School Bulldogs for the women’s championship.
“We just had to play hard. There are games where we all slack off, and our coach can tell during warm-ups when we are slacking off. So, the focus was to play hard and show him that we can make it to state,” said Morgan Dunbar, a junior on the Wildcats women’s team, describing her team’s focus heading into the game.
The game started off slow, as each team struggled to find their momentum. A few fouls were exchanged and couple of players had their shots at the free-throw line. It wasn’t until late into the first half that the Wildcats caught fire and went for a few back-to-back three-point shots, separating themselves from the Bulldogs and gaining close to a 20-point lead nearing half time. The crowd roared in amazement at the quick shift in momentum favoring Oakland High. As the buzzer went off in the second period, one team headed back to their locker room with confidence, the other team still searching for theirs.
Khirah McCoy, a junior who plays for the Wildcats, explained how her team was able to jump out far ahead of Tech late in the first half. “The coaches kept pushing us to not let up. No matter how far up that we were, we still had to maintain control of our play and to not just get sloppy with it, to stay neat and keep the intensity up, no matter what,” said McCoy.
The second half of the game told the same story, as Oakland High continued to build momentum and eventually buried the Bulldogs too deep for a comeback to be possible. As the buzzer went off signaling the end of the game, the final score showed an impressive 62-26 win for the Wildcats. Their season will continue, but for the Bulldogs this was the end of the road.
Both teams displayed amazing sportsmanship, and Oakland High humbly celebrated their win as Alphonso Powell, the OAL commissioner, presented them with the 2018 championship trophy. This win marked the third year in a row that the Lady Wildcats have hoisted that trophy.
“We were really excited and happy that we were able to come through with the win and stick together as a team,” said McCoy.
“It’s just a good feeling knowing you can win back to back-to-back, and that you have a good team and a good coach that is leading you,” said Dunbar.
Next up on the evening’s agenda was the OAL men’s basketball finals, with Tech versus Castlemont High School.
Brooklin Sharpe, a senior on the Tech men’s team, has served as a leader on the court for his team this season. “I was ready for the game. As a team, we were not nervous because we were here last year. Everybody was ready. We have been putting in the work, and we knew what to do,” said Sharpe.
This game started off much quicker, as both teams came out firing in the first period. Castlemont and Tech seem to be testing one another, seeing what worked and what didn’t. Tech came out shooting well, while Castlemont players displayed their quickness at driving to the rim for layups. Eventually, Tech was able to gain the upper hand, and on average held a 15-point lead over Castlemont, as their players forced Castlemont to take tough shots.
Jermaine Earnest, a Tech senior, broke down the team’s strategy for shutting down Castlemont: “Isolate them to the left side of the floor. Their left-hand shooters, isolate them to the right side of the floor and see how they play that. And if they break that, just keep going through with it,” said Earnest.
Despite Castlemont’s best efforts to fight back into the game, Tech just kept laying it on them and refused to give up their lead. Every time Castlemont would score a basket, Tech would respond with two more. Castlemont fought till the end, but it just wasn’t enough, as Tech emerged victorious with an 82-62 win.
The men’s team’s celebration was not as humble as the women’s, as “OT!” chants echoed throughout the gymnasium, and Powell presented Tech with their second consecutive OAL championship trophy. Friends, family, and classmates gathered to join in on the celebration, as people took pictures and exchanged hugs with the newly-crowned champions.
“This was my first OAL championship, so that was blessing to me to even be in that situation with this team,” said Earnest.
Daron Benson, a sophomore at Tech who was a key contributor to the team’s success, described how he felt his team performed. “One thing I felt we did good was we shared the ball a lot, and we had a lot of assists this game. One thing that we can improve on is our rebounding. We let a lot of balls bounce, so we have to play harder,” said Benson. “We aren’t satisfied. We have a lot more games to go. We have six more games to state. We are counting the games down, and we know there are more championships to come.”