SACRAMENTO, Calif. – For the Branson girls, it’d been a long return trip to Sacramento. Two years after a chance at a State Championship eluded them due to the coronavirus shutdown, the Bulls put on a defensive clinic and got a stellar performance from junior Hannah Golan to earn the Division IV state title with a 46-23 victory over Imperial at the Golden 1 Center.
Golan nearly outscored Imperial all by herself, registering 21 points coupled with 15 rebounds and five steals. Senior Jaliyah Wiggins added 10 points, five rebounds, five steals, and three assists for Branson (24-8).
While Imperial (28-7) struggled from the field from the opening tip-off, Branson hardly fared better in the first, shooting about the same percentage while taking half the amount of field goal attempts. Imperial knotted the game at eight with 10 seconds left in the opening quarter, but the Tigers did not score again until 3:37 to go in the third, a drought that lasted 12 minutes and 33 seconds. By that time Branson had rung up 24 more points and had a 32-10 lead.
“We kind of try to throw that haymaker,” Branson coach Trey Mitchell remarked. “I knew if we stayed the course, and we gave them just a little different look (defensively), I knew we would have some success.”
“The first quarter we were able to scrap,” Imperial coach Ron Ponchione said. “The second quarter we couldn’t get any shots to fall. Their size, their length, their speed was a little bit too much for us.”
Imperial had the unfortunate distinction of scoring the fewest points in State Championship history, breaking the mark (24) set by Laguna Hills in 2012. But the Tigers will also have a place in history as the first team from the Imperial Valley to appear in a CIF State Championship game. Sierra Morris, who’s led the team this season in both points and rebounds, did the same on Saturday, getting 11 and eight, respectively.
Golan went 5-for-10 from the field and 10-of-13 from the line. Branson led in every key category except for second chance points. The Bulls had 16 fast breaks to the Tigers’ 1 and outscored in the paint 22-6.
“The first thing I told them was ‘We’re getting a ring,’” first year Branson coach Trey Mitchell stated. “Everything that goes to these amazing ladies. It’s a joy to be a part of their lives every day.”
Branson got its third title in school history and is the third North Coast Section girls team in this year’s championships to win it all (following Salesian and San Domenico). Branson last won in 2008, the second of back-to-back Division V titles.
“Being able to look up at the screen, and see us and how far we’ve come, it was beautiful,” Golan commented. “And seeing the students who made the trip up here cheering for us, it was amazing.”
Branson captured the NorCal Championship on March 10th, 2020. Those Bulls, which included Golan, Wiggins, and several other players on this year’s team, were denied the opportunity to win a State Championship along with all the other regional winners.
“I was mentally preparing, and physically preparing, and then it all got shut down,” Wiggins said of that experience she had as a sophomore. “Getting back to this point, that was my main goal.”
Wiggins called stepping onto an NBA floor “like a dream...At first it was really surreal...and it was really, really fun.”
Imperial entered the state playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the Southern Region. Branson had the No. 3 seed in the Northern Region, and won by double digits against Los Altos, Gateway, and Calaveras before topping No. 12 Argonaut in the Regional Championship.
“It was an incredible season,” Ponchione remarked. “Just to see them grow as a team and to elevate their games was really nice to see.”