“No one thought we’d be here.” Notre Dame-San Jose completes Cinderella run, beats Mills to capture first section title in school history

SANTA CLARA — Radhika Garapaty couldn’t hold back her emotions after the final buzzer sounded.

The Notre Dame-San Jose guard sat at the end of the bench, looked at the scoreboard and bawled her eyes out.

But her tears weren’t ones of defeat, rather tears of joy after leading the Regents to their biggest win in program history.

After almost losing a double-digit second half lead, Notre Dame held on to win in overtime as it beat No. 2 seed Mills on Saturday at Santa Clara High School to capture the Central Coast Section Division III title — the first section title in school history.

“Nobody ever thought we could do this,” Garapty said. “We were the underdogs the entire tournament and no one thought we would be here. This is such a young team and we could do this again next year.”

Garapaty finished with 22 points and guard Rio Funatsu had nine.

Michelle Tang scored 16 points and Sophia Kwan had 12.

Notre Dame was the surprise team coming out of the Division III bracket. The Regents had a losing record heading into their CCS playoff run and were 3-7 in West Bay Athletic League Foothill play.

Mills was a heavy favorite to win the division III section title for the second year in a row.

After playing even in the first eight minutes, the Regents found their groove in the second quarter. Garapaty scored nine points in the second quarter alone and Notre Dame went into halftime with a four-point lead.

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Coming out of halftime, Notre Dame looked determined to put the game away. Aggressive drives to the basket led to layups and trips to the free throw line for the Regents as they built an 11-point lead at the midway point of the third quarter.

But Mills finished the third strong, going on a 12-2 run to go into the fourth quarter down 39-37.

The fourth quarter was all defense. Notre Dame didn’t allow Mills to score a point until the four minute mark of the fourth. The Vikings flipped the script however, and didn’t allow a Notre Dame bucket in the final four minutes of regulation.

With Mills down a point with 10 seconds left, coach Justin Matsu drew up a play to get Tang open on a back cut. The play was executed to perfection as Tang broke free from her defender, caught a pass near the basket and got fouled shooting a layup.

Tang made the second of her two free throws to send the game to overtime.

With Mills’ defense locked in on stopping Garapaty, other players stepped up in overtime to free up the offense.

Center Amaris Agossa scored the Regents’ only two field goals of the overtime period, making two layups after Garapaty was double teamed on the perimeter. When Mills was running out of time and had to foul, Funatsu made four of her six free throws to seal the game for Notre Dame.

The win was historic not just for the girls basketball program, but for the athletic department as a whole at Notre Dame. The only other section title across any sport at Notre Dame was a cross country CCS championship that came in 2000. It was also the first time Notre Dame’s basketball team was in a section title game.

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The Regents, a No. 5 seed, beat No. 4 Prospect and No. 1 Santa Cruz before beating No. 2 Mills in the championship game.

“Us going this far and winning this game sets a new level for Notre Dame,” said Regents head coach Ali Bueno. “I’m already looking forward to next season because we have a new standard, a new target we have to reach.”

For Mills, it was an emotional loss for the players and the coaching staff. This season has been dedicated to Dave Matsu, Justin’s father and longtime Mills coach who died in October. Matsu said he took the team to Dave Matsu’s grave site on Friday to help Mills envision what it was playing for.

“What these girls have gone through the last four months and to see how well they’ve handled it speaks to the maturity they have as kids,” Matsu said. “I’m just so proud of how we battled not just today, but the whole season.”

Mills’ season isn’t over as the Vikings get an automatic bid to the CIF Norcals after making the section championship game.

With this being the first time Notre Dame has made it to Norcals, Bueno admitted she doesn’t really know what will be next for Notre Dame aside from its season continuing. But the nine-year head coach is just excited to be coaching her team for another week.

“I’m not sure what division we’ll be placed in, but we’re just excited for the opportunity to play basketball at this time of year,” Bueno said. “A lot of teams are done and we have the privilege of continuing.”

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