Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Shelbi Aimonetti, shooting against Florin in the NorCal semifinals, totalled 15 points in Saturday’s final.
The contingent of Lynbrook High students brought the noise when their team scored the first basket in Saturday’s Northern California Division II girls basketball final against top seed St. Francis. But they wouldn’t have another basket to cheer until midway through the second quarter.
By then, the Lancers (24-8) were well on their way to a 44-19 victory and the first NorCal title in the program’s history.
“I’m extremely happy and extremely proud of these ladies,” coach Brian Harrigan said.
After surrendering that first hoop – a putback by Jackie Hudepohl – St. Francis reeled off 14 straight points to pull away from the third-seeded Vikings (25-6) at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena. In between 3-pointers by guards Shelbi Aimonetti and Daisha Abdelkader – both of which banked in – the Lancers scored four buckets from inside the paint, two by center Kate Hoey.
“When you come to these arenas, the closer shots you get, the better your percentage is probably going to be,” Harrigan said. “We wanted to be aggressive and take the ball to the basket.”
The Lancers were assertive on defense as well, adding to Lynbrook’s struggles in the cavernous arena that is home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings (for now).
“I think playing in this arena was a little bit different for us,” Vikings coach Cynthia Ting said. “We did not have the same perception of the rim and were not hitting shots we usually hit.”
Lynbrook’s 19 points is the fewest scored by a team in NorCal finals history.
St. Francis, up 17-10 at halftime, held the Vikings to 20 percent shooting from the field Saturday and forced 20 turnovers.
“We hang our hats on defense,” said Harrigan, whose team beat Florin 44-31 in the semifinals with a similarly gritty effort. “But I told them yesterday in practice, ‘If you guys want to go out and score a lot of points, I’ll be fine with that today, too – and in the second half we did that.”
The Lancers scored the first two baskets of the half – on a follow-up shot by forward Jennifer Lucian and a quick drive by Abdelkader – to lead 21-10 with 6:02 left in the third quarter.
A corner 3 by Paige Song – Lynbrook’s only trey of the game – and a free throw from Sarah Dyslin trimmed the deficit to seven points with 1:57 remaining in the third. St. Francis wouldn’t let the Vikings get any closer.
The Lancers capped the quarter on a 6-0 run, scoring on putbacks by Lucian and center Carolyn McGuire and a short-range shot from Abdelkader.
Aimonetti and Lucian took over from there, combining to score St. Francis’ next 15 points. Aimonetti opened the fourth with a 3 from the left baseline and hit a pair of jumpers from just inside the arc during the Lancers’ 15-3 spurt. Lucian drained a turnaround jumper in the middle of the key, converted a fastbreak layup, rattled in a jumper from above the foul line and got free under the basket for an easy layin.
That put St. Francis up 42-17 with 3:23 to play. The only thing left was the celebration.
Although St. Francis had never before reached the NorCal final, Aimonetti expected to get this far.
“I believed we could get here at all times,” said the senior, who scored a game-high 15 points. “From the first practice, our intensity was there. Just starting off in the summer, I think we were prepared and were going to get here.”
The Lancers are slated to return to Sleep Train Arena 2 p.m. Saturday to take on Southern California champ Lynwood (28-5). It will mark Harrigan’s seventh appearance in the title game; the first six came as coach of the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls.