Steelers’ extraordinary turnaround results in CIF championship; team will advance to state playoffs | Sports

The Fontana High School boys’ basketball team, which had been struggling for many years, suddenly made an amazing turnaround in 2021-22.

On Feb. 25, the extraordinary reversal of fortune culminated in the Steelers winning the CIF championship, confirming the validity of their motto: “The Steel is Real.”

Fohi conquered Riverside Prep, 67-50, in the Division 5A title game in front of a large, roaring crowd at the Steeler gym.

Joshua Okolugbo scored 22 points, Sergio Avalos fired in 16 points, and Esteban Perez collected 12 points as the Fontanans led from start to finish and raised their record to 25-5.

“The kids put in the work and made it happen,” said Mel Wilkins, who is in his first full season as head coach.

It was the first CIF title for the school in any sport since the 1995 basketball team brought home the crown. Wilkins previously led the Fontana A.B. Miller girls’ basketball team to a pair of CIF championships (2007 and 2008).

Fohi will now advance to the state tournament.  The locals will travel to Northview (19-12) on Tuesday, March 1 at 6 p.m. in the first round.

In 2019-20, the Steelers suffered through a 4-20 season, and in 2020-21, the team again had a tough time with a schedule that was drastically shortened due to coronavirus restrictions.

But this winter, Wilkins and his assistant coaches made it a point to establish a very high standard for the team.

Winning the CIF title “was the goal from Day 1,” he said.

“These kids just needed somebody to believe in them and to hold them accountable, and that’s what we did,” he said.

The Steelers started the year by winning 16 of their first 17 games. Then they acquired the Skyline League title and followed with five straight victories in the playoffs.

Through it all, they played great defense. Only four teams scored more than 50 points in a game against Fohi.

Against Riverside Prep, the Steelers took a quick 4-0 lead on two layups by Perez.

Okolugbo added a pair of baskets, and Perez (who had 10 points in the first quarter) threw in a 3-pointer as Fohi extended its lead to 14-6.

Riverside Prep kept trying to challenge the Steelers inside the key, but Okolugbo and Perez repeatedly blocked the visitors’ shots.

In the second quarter, Sergio Avalos scored 11 points as Fohi stretched its lead. He ended up with four 3-pointers in the game.

Riverside Prep was unable to reduce the deficit to less than 14 points in the second half.

Jesus Avalos came off the bench to score 10 points, while Aaron Yilmez added 4 points.

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