PREP BASKETBALL: Forest Lake Christian rallies late, wins D-VI title (VIDEO)
FLC: A. Jackson – 17 points, 7 rebounds, 9 steals
FLC: E. Wood – 7 points, 13 rebounds
FLC: J. Dreschler – 5 points, 10 rebounds
FLC: A. McDaniel – 6 points, 10 steals
FLC: S. Whaley – 7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals
VC: C. Williams – 8 points, 11 rebounds
VC: K. Larson – 6 points, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks
SACRAMENTO — The journey to the mountain top is often a long and arduous one, littered with a myriad of obstacles to overcome. But once there, most find it was well worth the time and effort.
That’s the case for the Forest Lake Christian girls basketball team which won its first Sac-Joaquin Section title since 2005 on Thursday.
“Just having this opportunity to come and play is so amazing, and being able to win is incredible,” said FLC junior guard Ellie Wood, now in her third year on the varsity team.
After runner up finishes in 2018 and 2019, the No. 2 seed Lady Falcons soared to the Section’s Division VI pinnacle, beating the No. 1 Valley Christian Lions, 42-39, in a thrilling championship bout at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
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“So happy,” FLC senior guard Amber Jackson said during a press conference after the game. “The last two years we’ve had to walk past this (press) room and the other team is in here cheering and stuff, and it’s like oof. But, just getting the chance to be here again and be in this room this time is incredible.”
In a rematch of last season’s D-VI title game, the Lady Falcons (23-5) were the aggressor early on with their full court press and opportunistic offense spurring them to a 24-9 lead midway through the second quarter.
But, as the game wore on, FLC’s offense sputtered and the Lions (23-2) began to claw their way back in it. By halftime the Lions had cut the deficit down to eight, and behind a 12-0 run that spanned the second and third quarters took a 30-28 advantage.
Back and forth the teams went trading the lead four times in the second half. The Lions grabbed their biggest advantage of the game at 39-36 with 3:26 left in the fourth. FLC wouldn’t allow another point the rest of the way.
An offensive rebound and put back by Wood with 1:40 left in the game pulled the Lady Falcons back to within one. On FLC’s next possession Wood was fouled and hit one of two free throws to tie it up.
After a couple fruitless possessions by both teams, FLC post player Jessi Dreschler was fouled on a drive to the hoop with 11 seconds left in the contest.
“I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been to shoot, ever in my entire life,” she said. “I was thinking: ‘This is practice. This is my court. It’s just me and the basket.’”
Her first free throw was off target, but FLC head coach John McDaniel had faith in his senior captain.
“On her first free throw she was a little rattled,” he said. “But I could see her get calm and then I felt OK. She’s been knocking them down in practice, so I was pretty confident she was going to get a last one.”
Dreschler’s second free throw hit the back of the rim and dropped through the net to give FLC a 40-39 lead.
“It was the biggest relief ever,” said Dreschler.
The Lady Falcons defense didn’t allow Valley Christian to get off a good shot in the final seconds and took over after a turnover. Senior point guard and team captain Ali McDaniel hit two free throws to ice the game.
“You could definitely see the maturity of the girls today,” said John McDaniel. “Amber (Jackson) obviously does a little bit of everything and we know she’s going to be poised. Jessi (Dreschler) had to take a year off last year (due to injury), but we were so happy to have her back and she was so poised and did what she needed to do. And Ellie (Wood), she made a few mistakes, she owned them and then she put us back in the lead. That’s what you need. Ellie showed her character on that.”
Jackson led the Lady Falcons’ relentless charge, scoring a game-high 17 points, grabbing nine steals and pulling down seven rebounds. Wood and Sadie Whaley each chipped in seven points. Ali McDaniel netted six points and Dreschler finished with five points.
Birds of prey
A lot of the Lady Falcons’ success this season has derived from their commitment to working hard and playing high-intensity defense from baseline to baseline.
“You should see how they work in practice, that’s how you know how much this means to them,” John McDaniel said. “What you saw on the court today is what they do every day in practice and I think that’s why they can bring the intensity that they bring.”
As a team they nabbed 29 steals in the game and grabbed 21 offensive rebounds. Ali McDaniel led the team with 10 steals. Wood tallied a game-high eight offensive rebounds, including a crucial one in the final minutes. Wood finished with 13 rebounds overall. Dreschler followed with 10 rebounds.
Valley Christian was forced into 40 turnovers in the game, which FLC turned into 24 points.
Whaley, a freshman, was instrumental to the Lady Falcons’ banner run. The athletic guard made multiple hustle plays down the stretch and tallied six rebounds and five steals to go with her seven points. She also held Valley Christian’s top scorer, Christelle Williams, to just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. Williams came into the game averaging 16 per game.
“She has the speed to hang with any girl we’ve seen so far, and though she won’t admit it, she loves the challenge,” said John McDaniel. “She stepped up the other night in our second round game and held their leading scorer to under their average and she did it again today. She’s been invaluable.”
John and Ali McDaniel came to Forest Lake Christian last season, John taking over the head coaching position and Ali joining as a junior transfer. Since they’ve been part of the program, FLC’s girls team is 47-12 overall, has won two Central Valley California League titles, reached two Section championship games and now has a Section banner to hang up at Schoellerman Court.
John McDaniel said the championship moment was made even more special for him because he was able to share it with his daughter Ali.
“She is obviously my favorite player of all time,” he said. “My other daughter played at St. Francis and my twin boys play as well, I love coaching all of them, but to get to actually coach and be at this high of a level with your own daughter, you just cant replace it. I’ll never forget the time I get to spend with her every day, the time in the car, the time talking about this and that, just seeing her step up in big games and being proud as a dad, not so much as a coach, but just as a dad — I’m proud of her.
John then turned to Ali and said, “I love you.”
Spirit of Sport Award
Jackson, who has committed to Oregon State where she will play soccer and compete in track and field, was presented the Spirit of Sport Award at halftime of the game. The award recognizes student-athletes who display exemplary sportsmanship, school/community service and leadership.
The Lady Falcons season continues next week with the start of the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal playoffs.
A season ago, the FLC was the No. 5 seed in the NorCal D-VI bracket and went on to beat the No. 4 seed and No. 1 seed before falling in the title game to No. 2 Etna.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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