Congratulations to Piedmont High School Boy’s Basketball Team on their outstanding season and winning the Division IV North Coast Section (NCS) for the first time in the program’s history. Fans enjoyed highly competitive team play throughout the season. Head Coach Ben Spencer developed a defensive juggernaut that could play with the best of them. The first time Piedmont played Bishop O’Dowd, Piedmont held them to 6 points in the first quarter and forced double overtime before O’Dowd got the win. How good was the Piedmont Team? Bishop O’Dowd was still in contention for the the State Championship in Open Division when the tournament was cancelled on March 12th. So was St. Mary’s, who we beat for the NCS Championship, in Division III. So was Weston Ranch, our first round opponent in Division II. Excellent ball handing and speed made it so that no team could press us. The offensive system created countless opportunities for great shots and when those weren’t available the creative genius of our scorers often led to 20 point leads. The players gave 100% effort and it showed. There is no other way a sports program from a small public school that doesn’t recruit from outside of the community can do what these young men did.
The thrill of the NCS victory quickly turned to dismay when we learned that Piedmont was placed in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Tournament in Division II with a rank of 13 in the 16 team bracket. As a result, a winning team entered the state tournament without home court advantage and in a division in which 6 of the schools were private and therefore can actively recruit athletes, or were public schools with 50% to 300% larger student populations to draw from. The team Piedmont had this year was talented in a way that simply won’t exist every year in such a small public school. When I spoke with the North Coast Section Commissioner to try to understand what had happened with Piedmont’s seeding in the tournament, he explained that each section sends their ranking recommendations to CIF, which then ranks teams from 1 to 85, so the divisions for CIF are totally different than for section play. Piedmont just had the misfortune of being “so good” that they wound up in a position that landed them in a low seed in Division II.
Despite the unfavorable set up, Piedmont played well enough in the first round game against Weston Ranch to lead the entire second half. In the closing minutes, Weston Ranch mounted a comeback. With 15.5 seconds left in the game, a Weston Ranch player committed his 5th foul. The Piedmont score keeper attempted to alert the Weston Ranch score keeper at the table that their player was fouled out, but the score keeper did not respond. The player stayed on the floor for the next play in which a Weston Ranch player drove to score with 8.1 seconds left in the game. A Piedmont player was called for a foul on that play, giving Weston Ranch a chance to tie the game. The crowd was wild as their player prepared to go the the line. The Piedmont score keeper stood up to demand that the Weston Ranch score keeper and referees address that a Weston Ranch player had continued to play after he should have been off the floor, and argued that it should be a technical against Weston Ranch. But by that point, the crowd was more in control of the game than the referees. The referees took no corrective action for their error and they allowed the Weston free throw but did not give them a technical. We lost the game in overtime.
While the fans should never have more control of a game than the table and the referees, the above incident illustrates the disadvantages a team faces when their score keeper literally does not have a seat at the table. Home Court can be a powerful advantage, even when such egregious errors do not occur. While there is no way to make all teams happy with their seed for the CIF, it seems that CIF should award home court advantage to all section winners. It would make winning sections even more significant and give teams an increased sense of their ability to control their destiny in the ranking system. Furthermore, ensuring a first home game for all section winners would allow teams a chance to be recognized by their home crowd, in their home gym, as section champions even if they do not advance past the first round. Finally, while Piedmont did play very well against Weston Ranch, it seems that if a school has never won the State Title there should be additional seeding guidelines that effectively prevent that team from moving up more than one division from their league division. Even though CIF maintains that the divisions are totally different, no other small public school was ranked as high as Piedmont in the tournament. Schools that don’t have a regular appearance deep in the CIF tournament should have a shot at winning a state championship at least once every 100 years. Covid-19 has dashed a lot of young athletes’ dreams by causing the cancellation of the tournament and for that I’m sorry. But it’s a virus. Piedmont had a really special team this year. Their ability to compete at such a high level is a testament to their dedication and effort. It would have been nice had NCS promoted and CIF placed the team in the tournament in a manner that felt like a recognition of their success rather than a careless disregard or simple lack of understanding as to how special this team was.