SACRAMENTO -- The Salesian High girls basketball team has a habit of messing around with Steve Pezzola's coach's board, but the players never touched three words written on it in early November: Open Division champions.
The Pride made good on the first part of its goal, getting off to a torrid start and surviving a second-half surge to beat Miramonte 78-64 in the premier CIF Open Division Northern Regional title game Saturday at Sleep Train Arena.
Kian McNair scored 18 points to help Salesian (30-6) advance to a state championship game for a third straight year as it will face Long Beach Poly next Saturday at 6 p.m. The Pride played in the Division IV state final the previous two seasons, losing both times.
Early on, it looked like Salesian might complete its grueling run through the Open Division regional tournament with a surprisingly easy victory over Miramonte (30-2). Deja Stallworth had 10 early points as the Pride bolted out to a 24-5 lead after a quarter.
"I just don't think we were quite ready and had some jitters," Miramonte senior Megan Reid said. "We're a young team, but we're a team that never quits."
So after trailing by as many as 23 early in the third quarter, the Matadors stormed back when Salesian star Mariya Moore picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench.
Sophomore Sabrina Ionescu was instrumental in a run that got Miramonte within 58-53 early in the fourth quarter, draining three straight 3-pointers.
But a 3-pointer by Moore and an old-fashioned 3-point play by McNair with about three minutes left, along with an amped-up defensive effort, helped seal the deal for Salesian.
The Pride won even with Moore, a McDonald's All-American headed for Louisville, being held to just seven points. She had just two points at halftime as the focal point of Miramonte's defense, but did contribute nine assists, seven rebounds and six steals.
"It's definitely a relief that we were able to stick it out and fight through," Moore said. "I wish hadn't gotten so many fouls so I would have been able to have been in the game and help them maintain the lead, but they maintained it fine."
Minyon Moore, Mariya's younger sister, finished with 13 points and four assists and Stallworth contributed 12 points for the Pride.
"We realized that we're not just Mariya, we're Salesian basketball and everybody comes to play," Pezzola said. "It seems like the last four or five games, it was someone different coming up with the big plays. It's really a whole team effort."
Ionescu finished with a game-high 23 points for Miramonte.