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‘An amazing feeling’: Gorman edges Coronado for 5A boys title — PHOTOS

Updated February 23, 2024 - 10:08 pm

Bishop Gorman forward Noah Westbrook wasn’t sure if he was going to play his senior year of high school basketball.

Westbrook missed his freshman year because of a canceled season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a torn ACL forced him to miss his sophomore year. He decided not to play his junior year, but rejoined the Gaels this season.

Fortunately for Gorman and Westbrook, he made the right decision.

Westbrook forced a turnover on Coronado’s final possession to help Gorman secure a 63-60 win in the Class 5A state championship game Friday night at the Thomas &Mack Center.

“I love my guys, and I’m so happy that they accepted me back with open arms,” Westbrook said. “I couldn’t be any happier. … I wanted to play this season because I don’t want to regret not playing, and I’m really happy I did.”

Westbrook led a balanced attack for Gorman (24-5) with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

“We needed some size, and for a guy that this was his first year of high school basketball, he had a great year,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “He’s a great kid. We’re so thankful he came out and played. We obviously wouldn’t have won this game without him.”

Senior Ryder Elisaldez and freshman Ilan Nikolov each added 11 points.

“It feels great,” Elisaldez, a UC San Diego commit, said. “We were really patient. We have a young group. It just feels amazing to finally get the job done, and after being here for four years, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

It’s the 23rd state title for Gorman, the first since 2020, and the 14th title for Rice.

“I’m happy, but I’m happy for these kids,” Rice said. “It’s not about me, I’m just happy for the kids because they just bought into what we were teaching. … If you’re together, you can accomplish a lot.”

Coronado (18-12) trailed most of the second half, and an Elisaldez layup gave Gorman a 60-55 lead with 3:50 left in the fourth quarter. However, Jonny Collins scored on a pair of layups to help Coronado tie the game at 60 with 1:17 left.

Gorman, which had three late turnovers, struggled at the free-throw line, as sophomore Jett Washington and Elisaldez each made one of two foul shots to put the Gaels ahead 62-60 with 14 seconds left.

After a Coronado timeout, Josiah Cunningham gave the ball to Collins, who drove to the basket, but his pass intended for Tee Bartlett was tipped by Westbrook, and the Gaels assumed possession.

“I was anticipating Tee to get the ball because he’s a big guy and he could probably get an easy two (points),” Westbrook said. “I anticipated it, (the pass) got tipped, and we won the game.”

Elisaldez made one of two free throws, a last-second Coronado heave was well off, and Gorman stormed the floor in celebration.

“It’s amazing. I’m almost speechless. It just feels great after all the hard work,” said Elisaldez, who was one of only two returners from last year’s Gorman team. “We had a lot of people saying some things, and we just took it all in, worked hard and got it done.”

Junior Nick Jefferson, who battled foul trouble in the second half, added nine points for Gorman.

“We didn’t have one standout tonight, we had a bunch of guys around that 10-point mark, but it was a group effort,” Rice said. “We were fortunate that it went our way in the end.”

Collins led Coronado with 18 points, and Cunningham added 14. Junior Lantz Stephenson and Bartlett each scored 14 for the Cougars, who were 10-for-19 at the free-throw line in the second half.

Gorman led by as many as nine points in the first quarter after finding success from the 3-point line. Coronado trailed 19-12 entering the second quarter, but Cunningham and Stephenson each scored four points during an 8-0 run to put the Cougars ahead 20-19 midway through the quarter.

Gorman and Coronado traded the lead nine times in the final 5:30 of the half, and the score was tied three times. Nikolov made a layup under a minute left, and Elisaldez hit a jumper as the clock expired to give the Gaels a 35-32 halftime lead.

“If we got defensive stops (in the second half) and pushed the ball on offense, we knew we could get it done,” Elisaldez said.

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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