St. Francis girls' season comes to a close in NorCal Division I basketball semis

Town Crier file photo
St. Francis High’s Lydia Foust dribbles down court in a recent game. She scored a team-high 15 points in last week’s loss.

When the St. Francis High girls basketball team entered the Northern California Division I playoffs, even coach Sami Field-Polisso – a kindergarten teacher by day who oozes optimism – wasn’t sure if the Lancers would last long.

After all, St. Francis was still licking its wounds from a rough go in the West Catholic Athletic League (3-7 record) and Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs (outscored by 64 points over two losses).

Panthers refuse to lose

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Pinewood’s Klara Astrom shoots over Mitty’s Hunter Hernandez in Saturday’s NorCal final.

Heart conquered height in Saturday’s Northern California Open Division girls basketball final, as Pinewood School rallied from a 16-point deficit to upset the nation’s top-ranked team in triple overtime.

Third-seeded Pinewood outlasted No. 1 Mitty 78-67 at Santa Clara University’s Leavey Center to advance to Saturday’s state title game in Sacramento.

Coming 15 days after the undefeated Monarchs took down the Panthers 76-62 in the Central Coast Section Open Division final on the same court, the result left Mitty fans stunned and put Pinewood’s raucous student section in a frenzy.

The Monarchs had more size, depth and star power, but they couldn’t match the Panthers’ grit.

“When you play a team as esteemed as Mitty and things aren’t going your way, there’s a tendency for teams to fold – and there was no el foldo,” Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler said. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of – regardless of winning the game, which is really nice – you saw heart, you saw kids who didn’t want to lose, you saw a great-conditioned team out there.”

The Panthers’ leading scorers Saturday – junior Hannah Jump (24 points) and senior Brianna Claros (20) – played all 44 minutes. Forward Jump scored 21 of her points after halftime, including 12 in overtime. Point guard Claros contributed nine points in OT and didn’t recall getting tired.

So how much longer could she have played?

“The whole night,” the UC San Diego-bound Claros said. “Whatever it took to not lose that game.”

Early in the third quarter, it looked like Pinewood (27-2) was on its way to an eighth-straight loss to Mitty (29-1). Junior Haley Jones’ drive across the lane gave the Monarchs their biggest lead at 39-23 with 5:11 left in the period.

But the Panthers clawed their way back with a 14-6 run to close the quarter. Junior guard Kaitlyn Leung scored half those points, sparking the spurt with a top-of-the-key 3, and totaled 14 points. Jump’s trey with less than two ticks remaining cut Pinewood’s deficit to a manageable 45-37.

That shot seemed to get Jump going. She nailed her next two 3s, part of the Panthers’ 11-5 run to begin the fourth.

“My coaches always tell me it’s going to come,” said Jump, an early commit to Stanford University. “Once you hit one, you know it’s going in.”

Claros followed Jump’s second trey of the quarter by driving down the middle of the lane for a layin that narrowed Mitty’s lead to 50-48 with 1:58 to go.

Already on their heels, things got worse for the Monarchs seconds later. The 6-foot-1 Jones – Mitty’s five-star recruit – fouled out with 1:31 left. The West Catholic Athletic League MVP went to the bench with 17 points and 10 rebounds, team-highs at the time.

“That changes our floor dynamic, because (with Jones) they have to really focus on her with two or three people,” Monarchs coach Sue Phillips said.

Mitty still had Penn State-bound Karisma Ortiz – who at 6 feet looked down on Pinewood’s starters – along with two more all-leaguers in Krissy Miyahara and Ania McNicholas, and freshman phenom Hunter Hernandez.

However, that wasn’t enough to fend off the determined Panthers. Leung’s baseline drive tied the game at 50 with 45 seconds remaining, leading to overtime.

The first overtime was back and forth, with neither team taking more than a two-point lead. A trey by Hernandez (team-high 18 points) put Mitty up 57-55 with 46 seconds left, but a driving Klara Astrom answered for Pinewood to force another extra period.

Jump buried back-to-back 3s early in the second OT to give the Panthers a 63-57 edge, but the Monarchs responded by scoring seven straight points. Pinewood regained the lead on Claros’ floater from the middle of the key with 11 seconds left, only to see Mitty’s Ashley Hiraki split free throws to tie the game at 65 five seconds later. The Monarchs had a chance to win it after the Panthers turned the ball over in the backcourt, but Ortiz’s 3 missed the mark.

Leung opened the third OT with a 3, setting the tone for Pinewood.

“I saw that I was open, and I wasn’t thinking if this is the right or wrong play, I was just like, ‘I’m open, so I’ll shoot the 3,’ and I did and it went in,” she said.

Miyahara countered with two free throws for the Monarchs, but the Panthers outscored them 10-0 the rest of the way. Claros scored the first five of those points, making two drives and a foul shot.

“The level of play by us was at the highest level; it was absolutely spectacular,” said Scheppler, whose team outrebounded Mitty 50-45. “It couldn’t have been better.”

Next up: Windward (26-3) of Los Angeles at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

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Foothill teams fall in playoffs

The Foothill College men’s basketball team finished the season one win shy of making the state final four.

The fifth-seeded Owls put up a fight at No. 4 Santa Rosa before falling 83-78 in the Northern California finals March 3.

St. Francis, Pinewood girls reach NorCal basketball semis

After two rounds of the Northern California Division I basketball playoffs, the St. Francis High girls have made it clear that they are not easily intimidated. The Lancers went on the road and defeated a pair of higher-seeded teams to reach the semifinals.

“My team is so competitive,” St. Francis coach Sami Field-Polisso said. “They don’t care who we’re playing and what we’re up against.”

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