Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 | 9:21 p.m.
The Bishop Gorman and Clark high basketball teams seemed destined to play each other for the state championship since the beginning of the season.
The state semifinals on Thursday was another indicator that the powerhouse programs were in a class of their own. Clark limited Reno’s Bishop Manogue to four second-quarter points in a 53-34 win. A few hours later, seven-time defending state champion Gorman disposed of Arbor View in convincing fashion, 81-52.
That sets up the finale many have long expected: Clark vs. Gorman at 8 p.m. Friday at the Orleans Arena.
“It’s a one-game season now,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said.
Gorman is playing for its 12th state championship in the Rice coaching era. In state title games during the run, the Gaels are undefeated at 11-0. Yet, Clark knows the Gaels aren’t invincible. Two years ago, Clark blew a seemingly commanding seven-point lead in the final two minutes.
Gorman has beaten Clark three times this season, including once in each of the past two weeks. Beating a team a fourth time, especially a team led by two Division I players in Antwon Jackson and Jalen Hill like Clark, will be no easy task.
“It is hard beating a team four times. We have to go out and just play our game,” Gorman guard Zaon Collins said.
Both teams should feel confident after Thursday’s performance.
Jackson, an Arkansas State signee, led all scorers with 17 points in dominating the interior for Clark. The same inside success was enjoyed by Gorman’s post players of Isaiah Cottrell and Mwani Wilkinson, who combined for 43 points, 28 rebounds and 12 blocks.
Jackson and Cottrell, a top-50 recruit for 2020, have battled back and forth multiple times over the past three seasons. It seems fitting they have one more showdown, especially with Cottrell coming off a triple-double of 22 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks, according to Gorman’s stats.
“Anytime you can have that many blocked shots, and it looks like we had 50 rebounds ... you will be happy with the results,” Rice said.
Clark coach Chad Beeten is no stranger to game-planning for Gorman, a program he’s long said he intends to dethrone. When Beeten took the job nine years ago, he decided to attend a state tournament game to get a glimpse of what made Gorman elite. It’s just the result was different that day, as the Gaels were surprised by Bishop Manogue in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
“We are playing tomorrow, that is the goal,” Beeten said.
Considering Clark lost in double overtime to Gorman in the regular season and trailed by just three points with 90 seconds in last week’s regional finals, a Chargers’ victory wouldn’t necessarily be labeled an upset.
Yes, after a season of waiting for one game, it’s finally here — Gorman-Clark, yet again, and for the ultimate bragging rights.
“It’s great for the city," Rice said. "It’s something Clark and us are looking forward to.”