SACRAMENTO -- The best season in the history of the Freedom High boys basketball program didn't end the way the Falcons wanted it to, as they suffered a 59-51 loss in overtime to Monte Vista on March 22 at Sleep Train Arena in the CIF Division I Northern Regional championship.
But the loss didn't take away from what the Falcons accomplished in a successful 2013-14 campaign.
Freedom won its first Bay Valley Athletic League championship, made the North Coast Section Division I championship and won two games in the regional playoffs to advance to the NorCal title game. The Falcons finished with 26 wins, most ever for the program.
"We do have a lot to be grateful for," Freedom coach Drew Torres said after the loss to Monte Vista. "League championship ... Second place in NCS ... Second place NorCal. ... I've been blessed to have great kids that have come through the program and help build this to where it is today."
Monte Vista will vie for its first state championship against Centennial-Corona at 8 p.m. on March 28 at Sleep Train Arena.
Upset-minded Freedom, the No. 3 seed, stunned the top-seeded Mustangs on Elliott Smith's remarkable banked-in 3-pointer at the final buzzer in regulation to tie it 49-49. But Monte Vista, after spotting the Falcons a field goal in overtime, went on a 10-0 run to close it out.
Monte Vista (31-1) had beaten Freedom handily two times previous this season, including 57-41 in the NCS Division I championship game, expected and received a more physical challenge this time. The Falcons outrebounded Monte Vista 41-28 after being dominated inside in the previous two matchups.
Smith, a 6-foot-6 senior who had a huge postseason, led the Falcons with 14 rebounds to go with his game-high 19 points.
"Today was by far the most adverse situation we've been in in our careers, especially the senior five starters," said Mustangs 6-9 center Spencer Rust, who had nine rebounds and four blocked shots and came up big in overtime. "It was tough, especially when Elliott hit that three. We were demoralized. We came together, got in the huddle and just looked at each other and said, 'We're a family.' We've been thinking about this moment for eight years. Nothing could stand in our way."
In overtime, after Freedom's Rodney Pope scored on a bank shot, Grant Jackson's jumper tied it at 51-51. Trevor John converted both ends of a 1-and-1 to put Monte Vista ahead to stay. The Mustangs tied up Smith inside on the Falcons' next possession to get the ball back. Jackson, who led the Mustangs with 15 points, made a clutch 3-pointer, and Brendan Pedley's 3-pointer sealed the deal.
On his unlikely 3-pointer at the end of regulation, Smith side-stepped Pedley, who was guarding him tightly, and somehow rammed the shot in off the glass. The big shot followed a 3-pointer by Monte Vista's Trevor John with 1:16 left to break a 46-46 tie in the defensive battle. Smith also made the winning shot to beat Rodriguez-Fairfield 78-76 in the second round of NorCals.
"Our team effort was great," Smith said. "We played hard, we always play hard. I have nothing been good feelings for this squad. We played our heart out."
Rodney Pope, MVP of the BVAL, had 12 points for the Falcons.
Staff writer Matt Schwab contributed to this story.