Justin Nguyen

Justin Nguyen elevates and shoots over Gab Alcaraz of Elk Grove. The Senior guard scored nine points, seven of which came in the first quarter.

As the regular season comes to an end, and the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs are on the horizon, the Sheldon Huskies knew they needed a strong finish to leave a good lasting impression on the CIF. Sheldon were rolling right along in the Delta League and comfortably in first place with one loss until the basketball program had to forfeit four games on Jan. 22 because of an unnamed player committing a section violation by playing in a Sunday adult basketball league.

Because of having to forfeit four games, the Huskies chances at winning the Delta were gone and Sheldon had to use these last few league games as preparation for the Division I playoffs.

The Huskies were able to shake off the distraction of a program violation and end the season strong by winning their last five games, which include last Friday’s regular season finale against Elk Grove High School.

Sheldon used a strong second quarter to propel themselves to a 68-58 win at home over the Thundering Herd last Friday.

“We didn’t play our best tonight and our defense was sloppy but we did enough to win the game,” said Sheldon head coach Joey Rollings.

“We came out and tried to change the game and create some tempo with the full court press and get into a rhythm and it worked because we got a few steals and easy buckets.”

The Huskies had to play the game essentially without star Junior Marcus Bagley. Bagley got into foul trouble within the first few minutes of the game and was forced to sit the majority of the quarter. Then, Bagley seemed to pull a muscle in the upper part of his right leg at the start of the third quarter and would not return to the game.

Bagley, who came into Friday night’s matchup averaging 21.5 points finished with only four against Elk Grove.

“We think Marcus will be alright,” Rollings said.

“We will give him a couple days off to rest and go from there.”

With Bagley out of the game, Elk Grove was able to slowly chip away at a Sheldon lead that was in double digits from the second quarter on.

The Thundering Herd cut the Sheldon lead to as little as eight with a few minutes left to play but Sheldon was able to manage the game and avoid the upset.

“We got back to doing what we know and what we worked on in preparation to this game and got back into it,” said Elk Grove head coach Dustin Monday.

“In the second quarter with their pressure we lost our composure and became more individualistic and went away from what we were trying to do and that made the difference in the game.”

Elk Grove were able to come back in the game in due part because of their talent youth players. The Thundering Herd were led by freshman Ameere Britton who scored a team-high 14 points and sophomore Aaron Gillyard who added 11 points off the bench.

With Bagley largely ineffective, the remaining Huskies’ players had to pick up the scoring slack.

Junior guard Xavier Brown led Sheldon in scoring with 18 points off the bench and Senior guard Kaito Williams scored 17 points to keep Elk Grove at bay.

“We have 12 guys who can really play and get after it and play hard,” Rollings said about his team.

“We have to shoot the ball better and find ways to put the ball in the basket more often.

Elk Grove qualified for the DII playoffs and played Monday as the 15th seed. The Thundering Herd finished at 3-9 in the Delta League but Monday believes this team remained together and played hard throughout.

“It seems like everytime we are down against a team we kept battling and made a game of things,” Monday said.

“All season long we kept taking our lumps but would find ways to bounce back and find a way to win a game.”

Elk Grove will return their top two scorers from this season in sophomore Albert Green  and Britton. Green averaged 10.7 points per game this season and Britton averaged 10.5 points and 4.8 rebounds.

“We are pumped already for next year and those young guys still have to learn a lot,” Monday said.

“With that being said, the talent is there and the sky’s the limit.”

Sheldon will not roll into the postseason at 18-10 and 7-5 in the Delta League. The Huskies are the No. 1 seed in the Division I playoffs and will match up against the winner of Monday’s play-in game between Edison of Stockton and Modesto.

“I think we still have a lot of room to improve but we are reaching that peak,” Rollings said.

“We are excited for the postseason and this is where things count and where the games really matter.”

Strangely enough, the No. 1 seeded Huskies will open the postseason on Tuesday on the road because of something that happened at the Division I championship game last season against the No. 3 seed this year, Modesto Christian.

Although, Sheldon represented Northern California in the Open Division state championship game, they lost the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game to Modesto Christian 60-56 and left the court without shaking the hands of the Crusaders, which violates the section’s sportsmanship policy.

Because of last year’s antics, Sheldon are being punished by having to play a road game as the No. 1 seed in the opening round.