He squared. He fired, from a distance that would make even Stephen Curry raise his eyebrows.
And when Caleb Foster’s three-pointer dropped, putting the capper on Sherman Oaks Notre Dame’s emphatic 88-61 blowout of Sierra Canyon on Wednesday night, a teammate pretended to stick something in Foster’s ribs. The sentiment was clear.
Notre Dame earned a spot in Friday’s Mission League tournament championship game against Studio City Harvard-Westlake at Bishop Alemany.
Foster, a preseason transfer from Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy, plays with visible pride. Fire. During the preseason, Notre Dame coach Matt Sargeant remembered the Knights were having an intrasquad scrimmage when the coach pulled Foster. And the senior guard headed to Duke was incensed.
“That fire — ‘I can’t believe you subbed me out, I need to be in every drill’ — that’s who he is,” Sargeant said.
And the fuel for Foster was there, a head-to-head matchup with Bronny James and Sierra Canyon, James finally cleared to play after five games missed in a sit-out period from a knee injury.
Every great player searches for an extra shred of motivation, Sargeant said. Here was Foster’s: James was named a McDonald’s All-American Jan. 24. Foster, who averages more points per game and was widely expected to make the final roster, was left off the list.
“For Caleb, that’s a pretty direct one-to-one of, ‘I’m playing against a guy that got my spot, so I have to go out there and show everyone how good I am,’ ” Sargeant said. “And he did that – and then some tonight.”
Foster finished with 20 points on four threes, each more emphatic than the last, as senior Gonzaga commit Dusty Stromer took the reins in the second half to finish with 21 points. But it was Foster’s final bucket – and a subsequent wave goodbye in the direction of Sierra Canyon’s bench – that was the lasting image of the night.
It was a dagger, plain and simple. Dagger, in multiple ways – on the night, on the Foster-versus-James matchup…and on, potentially, Sierra Canyon’s Open Division chances?
In a recent spell of injuries with the Trailblazers that has seen James out and junior top scorer Isaiah Elohim on crutches with a sprained ankle, they’ve gone 2-3 in their last five games, with losses to sure-fire Open teams Harvard-Westlake and Notre Dame. Sierra Canyon has a slew of wins against standout national programs, but no victories over surefire Open Division teams, which will give the seeding committee some tough decisions as playoff time rolls around. It’s possible, for the first time in coach Andre Chevalier’s tenure, that Sierra Canyon falls to Division 1.
In James’ return, he came out ready from the tip, scoring seven of Sierra Canyon’s first nine points, slapping away a drive from Notre Dame’s Foster and screaming “Yessir!”
Before long, the night turned into a showcase between James and Foster, two of the best guards in Southern California. James finished with 19 points, clapping his hands after every bucket in the first quarter, a rare display of sheer emotion from the normally stoic Sierra Canyon senior. But Foster got going in the second, faking and stepping back for a deep three over the Trailblazers’ Noah Williams that prompted a Trailblazer timeout and a puffed chest from Notre Dame’s point guard.
Stromer and Notre Dame guard Mercy Miller added second-half exclamation points in a dominant win, Stromer burying three threes after the halftime buzzer and Miller dropping a poster dunk on the Trailblazers’ A.J. Swinton so thunderous that Swinton had no choice but to smile softly as if to say, “Damn.”
The Trailblazers simply had no secondary options behind James with Elohim out and Ashton Hardaway enduring a tough shooting night after a 42-point game the previous day. And with time ticking away on Elohim to return before Open Division play starts, Sierra Canyon may be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Harvard-Westlake advanced to the tournament final by rallying from a three-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to a 56-48 victory. Brady Dunlap scored 18 points. Jackson Mosley led St. Francis with 20 points. Notre Dame lost to Harvard-Westlake in double overtime the last time the two teams played. And Foster fouled out at the end of regulation.