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Central Coast Classic: Led by JoJo Walker and Gabrys Sadaunykas, St. Joseph captures CIF basketball title in 2016

Central Coast Classic: Led by JoJo Walker and Gabrys Sadaunykas, St. Joseph captures CIF basketball title in 2016

CIF basketball titles aren't easy to come by on the Central Coast. 

The area is usually at a disadvantage competing against the larger talent pools in Southern California. 

But when the right team is in the right division at the right time, magic happens.

That's what occurred for the St. Joseph High School basketball team during the 2015-16 season. 

The Knights had the right mix of talent, with star guard JoJo Walker in backcourt and forward Gabrys Sadaunykas in the front. Scotty McBeth added an adept scoring touch for the Knights. Cristian Rubalcaba was an aggressive defensive-minded point guard. Mason Jones was the extra muscle down low and Colton Brickey could be counted upon to make a big bucket in a tight spot. 

Those players combined to power the Knights to the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA title in March of 2016. The Knights cruised past La Canada Flintridge Prep for the title in a game played at Godinez High in Santa Ana. 

The victory gave the Knights their first CIF title since 2004 and coach Tom Mott's first with the Knights. 

In the title game, the Knights controlled the first 16 minutes and built up a 14-point halftime advantage. Then St. Joseph, the division's top seed, put the game away with a decisive second half, winning 63-45.

Every member of the squad had a hand in the championship win.

Walker, then a junior, led the Knights with 15 points. Sadaunykas, who was a senior, scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. McBeth poured in 14. Jones had nine points and Brickey added four.

"It's unreal, we don't even know how to celebrate," McBeth said then. "...It's one of the greatest feelings in the world."

Walker said: "We just had to calm down and let the game came to us."

The player happiest with the title was undoubtedly Sadaunykas, who came to St. Joseph from Lithuania. He went on to play at Hancock College before transferring to Humboldt State last year.

"It feels great, we worked super hard the whole season, it was our goal and I'm just happy we made it," Sadaunykas said. "...It was amazing. I want to say a huge thanks to our fans who came out here. I'm thankful to everyone who came. The atmosphere was amazing. It was just easy to play with that energy."

The Knights won that game despite going cold in the second half. St. Joseph hit on 14-of-26 shots in the first and second quarters, but went just 8-for-28 after halftime. The Knights shot 40.7 percent for the game.

The last time St. Joseph won a Southern Section championship was in 2004, when the Knights beat St. Bernard under Ed Torres. 

Although the Knights won the title game by 18, they had to earn it in the second half as the Rebels tightened things up near the end of the third quarter, cutting the St. Joseph lead to 43-34 with about a minute left.

Walker sank a huge 3-point shot to give the Knights a boost for a 46-34 lead.

"JoJo loves taking the big shot," Mott said. "And when he makes it it elevates the whole team. Tonight he played like he's played all year. He's hit some big shots, shared the basketball and he's the leader you want your point guard to be."

After the Rebels failed to answer, the Knights needed another big shot to fully take back all momentum.

McBeth answered the bell, knocking down a 3 from the right corner. And just like that, the Knights' lead went from nine to 15.

"Scotty was huge, he's kind of an unsung guy, Joe and Gabrys get a lot of the credit, but Scotty is Mr. Consistency," Mott said. "He's out there every night, he defends, plays hard and he hits big shots."

Rubalcaba, who finished with five points and two assists in 23 minutes, said the Knights just did what they do best on that Saturday night in Santa Ana. 

"Like I said before, we're going to go out here and fight and do what we do best and that's win," Rubalcaba said. "That's what we did and now we're CIF champions."

St. Joseph ended its title run with a 29-3 record before starting the state playoffs.

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