Just like the week before, those morning practices paid off for the Pinewood School girls basketball team in Friday’s state Division V final. The Panthers looked ready to play at 10 a.m., while opponent La Jolla Country Day seemed out of sorts from the start.
As a result, perky Pinewood routed lethargic La Jolla 60-42 at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena – and the game wasn’t even that close.
The Panthers took the lead at 3-2 – on forward Chloe Eackles’ three-point play – and never surrendered it. They led 15-6 after the first quarter, 39-13 at intermission and by as many as 30 points in the second half.
“You could see the difference in the energy level of both teams,” said Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler, who sprinkled 10 a.m. practices throughout the season in anticipation of playing in the Northern California and state title games scheduled for that time. “Preparation is crucial, and it was definitely the difference in all the games we played.”
The Panthers (30-3) – who blew out Brookside Christian by a similar score in the NorCal final a week earlier – were prepared physically and mentally to take on the Torreys (20-12) Friday. Describing their execution as “flawless,” Scheppler was elated with the way his players followed the game plan.
“When I saw them on film, I noticed ball-handing deficiencies, and the teams playing them didn’t really pressure them,” the coach said of La Jolla, down to seven players after losing its point guard to an injury in January. “The teams that were playing them didn’t really attack their weak defensive player.”
Pinewood did both. The Panthers’ pressure defense proved to be a nightmare for the Torreys, who committed 26 turnovers – 18 by halftime. On offense, Pinewood took advantage of La Jolla’s slow-footed forward, whom Eackles blew by time and time again. The sophomore scored 10 points and recorded two assists.
“Doc had a stellar scouting report,” said junior point guard Marissa Hing, who paced the Panthers with 17 points, three steals and two assists.
Most of Hing’s points came from the foul line, from which she shot 13 of 16. Hing drew fouls on a pair of 3-point tries in the first half, making five of the six ensuing free throws. La Jolla coach Terri Bamford complained to the refs that Hing flopped – the 5-foot-1 guard fell to the floor both times – but they disagreed.
Hing scored the first basket of the second quarter on a layin off a Pinewood steal. She produced seven points in the period – topped only by teammate Gabi Bade. The shooting guard scored eight, highlighted by back-to-back 3s midway through the quarter.
“I didn’t really think about the ball going in,” the junior said, “I just shot it.”
Gabi’s sister, senior forward Leeana, swished a 3 late in the quarter to put Pinewood up 35-11. Her reverse layin early in the third quarter extended the Panthers’ advantage to 43-13.
The Bade sisters finished with 13 points each.
Freshman guard Akayla Hackson accounted for Pinewood’s seven other points in Friday’s game. She buried the Panthers’ first trey of the day and made a pair of drives down the middle.
“She came out without any fear,” Hing said of Hackson. “She told me right before the game, ‘I’m not nervous at all.’”
Nerves didn’t seem to rattle any of the Panthers, a team that’s no stranger to Sacramento. Pinewood has made it to the state final three out of the last four years.
Leeana Bade was the only girl to play on all three teams, winning the championship as a freshman and falling to Sierra Canyon by double digits a year ago.
“Since we lost last year, I wanted to end my high school season with a big bang,” said Bade, who rated Friday’s outcome as a 10 on the bang scale.
Bade is the lone starter graduating this spring, so it’s reasonable to expect the Panthers to contend for a seventh state crown in 2015.
Scheppler, who has guided Pinewood to the state final eight times, said this year’s team is as good as any he’s coached.
“The way they played today, they’re right up there,” he said. “That was an awesome performance.”
2013 girls basketball: Pinewood sweeps 6th state title - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier