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Panthers' fate: A return to state

Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Pinewood’s Gabi Bade dribbles toward the basket in Saturday’s game. She scored 16 points.

Size didn’t matter in the Northern California Division V girls basketball final – experience did.

Defending champ Pinewood School blew out bigger but younger Brookside Christian 61-38 Saturday morning at American Canyon High to advance to the state final for the third time in four years.

The poised Panthers (29-3) settled down after a few early turnovers against the Cougars’ trapping defense, breaking it time after time to get the 3-point shots and layins they rely on.

Pinewood’s five starters, all key players on last year’s title team, combined to score 50 points against Brookside of Stockton. Junior shooting guard Gabi Bade paced the second-seeded Panthers with a game-high 16 points.

“Gabi, from the outset, was not afraid to fail,” said coach Doc Scheppler, who added that Bade’s confidence spread to her teammates “like a beautiful virus.”

The top-seeded Cougars (28-5) didn’t have a cure for it.

Pinewood grabbed the lead a minute and a half into the contest – on a 3-pointer by junior point guard Marissa Hing – and never relinquished it.

By halftime, the Panthers held a seven-point edge on the Cougars, whose senior-free lineup included two freshmen and a sophomore. The lead grew to 12 points just a minute into the decisive third quarter, and Pinewood maintained a double-digit advantage the rest of the way.

Bade alone outscored Brookside 12-11 in the third. She didn’t miss a shot – making a pair of 3-pointers, fastbreak layins and free throws.

The Panthers put up 20 points in the period to enter the fourth with a commanding 46-30 lead.

“It was a great performance – very similar to last year’s performance against Eastside,” said Scheppler, referencing the 48-36 victory over Eastside Prep on the same court a year ago. “You come in against that type of a team, that type of talent, that type of style, and we stepped up to the moment and made beautiful passes and hit shots.”

The Panthers never looked intimidated by the Cougars, who were noticeably taller at nearly every position. Pinewood outrebounded Brookside 45-37 and limited post players Jonja’nay Spivey (6-foot-3) and Ra’Kyra Gabriel (6-1) to four-of-19 shooting.

“I thought defensively we were solid,” said Scheppler, whose squad held the Cougars to 22.8 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers. “Our posts, Leeana and Chloe, did a great job inside.”

That would be 5-10 senior Leeana Bade and 5-9 sophomore Chloe Eackles. They not only held their ground against Brookside’s big girls – who missed a slew of short-range shots – but outrebounded them as well. Eackles grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and Bade collected nine. No Cougar totaled more than seven rebounds, which matched how many the 5-1 Hing finished with.

“We played these guys our freshmen year and they killed us, so we had this revenge against them,” said Hing, who scored all 12 of her points in the first half. “I was super-pumped for this game.”

Expect Hing and her teammates to be just as excited about their next game. Pinewood is scheduled to face La Jolla Country Day in the state final 10 a.m. Friday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.

La Jolla (20-11) – the third seed in its region – routed Immanuel 54-33 in Saturday’s SoCal final.

Pinewood will be seeking its sixth state crown. The Panthers lost to Sierra Canyon 47-33 in last year’s title game.

CIF Northern California basketball final: Pinewood girls - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

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