Verdugo Hills basketball advances to their 1st CIF State Division V Finals in a 56-53 thriller over North High School


After a December 14th loss to his alma mater Lincoln, Verdugo Hills Head Coach Jared Gibson took a road trip with his team on a day off from Stockton to the Old Town area of Sacramento to visit the California State Capital. Located nearby is the Golden 1 Center, the home of the Sacramento Kings and the site of the CIF State Finals. Coach Gibson and the Dons players gathered in front of the arena to take pictures, as he claimed they unknowingly “manifested” a return in March with the goal of taking additional photos with the state championship trophy in their hands. In the CIF State Division V Regional Finals at North Hollywood High School on Tuesday, March 5th, 2024, the Dons moved one step closer to making their manifestation a reality. Senior guard Baylin Statler of North High School missed the game-tying three-pointer as time expired to secure the 56-53 victory for the Dons and their first-ever CIF State D5 Regional Title.

After winning a city championship in Division II, Verdugo Hills powered their way through the D5 Regional playoffs en route to a tough matchup in the Finals against a 29-6 North Stars team located in the Bakersfield area. The Stars got off to a hot start after the opening tip-off with an 8-2 lead, before Verdugo Hills settled into their defense by pressing as soon as they crossed half court. Senior forward Gianmarco Figueroa poured in 7 of his 15 points in the quarter, as the Dons went on an 8-2 run of their own by attacking the rim through contact in an effort to draw fouls converting 5/7 free throw attempts from the charity stripe.

North held a slim 18-16 lead heading into the second quarter, where both teams traded baskets to start the quarter playing their way through a tie and a lead change. Both teams were unable to take care of the basketball, as the game became sloppy towards the halfway point in the quarter. The Dons made a run towards the end of the half through their movement without the basketball, using backdoor cuts to convert easy layups. Senior guard Jabez Agustin knocked down back-to-back triples as a part of a 10-3 run to give Verdugo Hills a 33-30 halftime lead.

The Stars came out of the locker room with a vengeance on their first defensive trip with consecutive blocked shots from senior forward Nate Becerra. His effort defending the rim galvanized the team leading to North going on a 10-2 run to take a five-point lead to begin the third quarter. The Dons responded with a mini-run of their own before tying the game at 40 apiece. North responded by making the hustle plays on both ends of the court and diving on the floor for loose balls to finish the period with a 58-54 lead.

With their season hanging in the balance, the Dons went on an 11-2 run to begin the fourth quarter with five different players contributing offensively. Having made similar comebacks throughout the season and playoff run, Coach Gibson cited the team chemistry from years of playing together as key to their offensive execution in the fourth quarter. “These kids won an eighth grade title together, like eight of them on my team.”, he stated, “They just know each other so well that they know they can get themselves a shot.”

Verdugo Hills held a five-point lead when Statler brought the game to a 55-52 score with 2:23 left in the game. After a timeout from the Dons, the North defense forced consecutive turnovers on their next two possessions yet failed to take full advantage of four second-chance opportunities to only come away with a single point from the foul line. 

With 40.2 seconds left, through clever passing and smart decision making the Dons were able to effectively run the clock down to 8.6 seconds before the Stars were forced to foul. After Verdugo Hills senior Alexander Martinez converted one of two free throws, North took a timeout with one final opportunity to send the game into overtime before Statler missed the aforementioned three-point shot as time expired.

Verdugo Hills fans roared with excitement in the stands as they watched their players raise the CIF State Regional championship trophy to punch their ticket to Sacramento. With one game away from their ultimate goal of a state title, the Dons will move on to face the Athenian Owls from the Danville area in the San Francisco Metro on Friday at noon. 

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