For the first quarter of Friday’s Central Coast Section Open Division girls basketball final, Pinewood School looked like it actually could upset the nation’s best team. The Panthers led Mitty by 10 points, delighting its spirited student section and anyone else at Santa Clara University’s Leavey Center rooting for the underdog.
But the top dog bit back in the second quarter. With a furious rally, the top-seeded Monarchs went up 10 by halftime and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way en route to a 76-62 win over No. 2 Pinewood.
“I was proud of our effort,” said Panthers coach Doc Scheppler, who learned hours before tip-off that his team had climbed to No. 2 in MaxPreps’ national rankings. “It was just that second quarter was just brutal.”
Mitty opened the period with a 16-0 run – and needed only 2:42 to do it. The Monarchs nailed a trio of treys, sank three free throws and got four points in the paint from standout Haley Jones.
Hannah Jump snapped the streak by draining a pull-up jumper in the key, then buried a 3 on Pinewood’s next possession to cut the deficit to 28-27. But those were the only points of the period for the Panthers, outscored 25-5.
“I think in the second quarter, when things started to not go our way, we didn’t play our best type of basketball,” said junior Jump, who finished with a team-high 20 points. “Going on, when we play them again in NorCals, we need to play like we did in the first quarter for the whole game.”
Pinewood – slated to begin the Northern California Open Division playoffs 7 p.m. Friday against visiting Carondolet – got off to a stellar start against Mitty last week. The Panthers made four of their first five shots: Brianna Claros scored on back-to-back drives before Jump and Kaitlyn Leung each hit a 3.
Mitty bounced back to tie the game at 10 on a breakaway layup by Hunter Hernandez, but Pinewood answered with a 12-2 run capped by Courtni Thompson’s 3 from the baseline with two ticks left in the half.
That’s as good as it would get for the Panthers (25-2), who played most of the second quarter without Klara Astrom after she picked up her third foul.
“Without her, we were really hurting,” Scheppler said of the junior, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer this season.
The Monarchs (27-0) made it even tougher on Pinewood by altering their defense in an effort to slow down attacking point guard Claros.
“Bri proved the first three or four possessions that, ‘I can go by anybody,’ and then they changed their defense a little,” Scheppler said. “(They) started to trap to get the ball out of her hands, and our other girls had a hard time creating, locating and finding players.”
Pinewood missed 13 of its 15 shots in the second and committed five turnovers.
Mitty stretched its lead to 56-39 by the end of the third, thanks largely to being larger than the Panthers. The 6-foot-1 Jones routinely got to the rim, scoring 10 of her 20 points in the quarter.
Pinewood allowed 38 points in the paint Friday and was outrebounded 44-28. Jones totaled 14 rebounds, and 6-footer Karisma Ortiz added 13 boards and 13 points.
“And that’s why it helps to be tall in basketball,” Scheppler said. “They’re not only tall, they’re really skilled. They’re really good.”
The Panthers never surrendered, though, narrowing the gap to 65-55 on three free throws by Jump with 3:13 remaining in the fourth. After Mitty answered with a bucket, Astrom used a head fake to drive by her defender for a layup with 2:20 left that again cut the deficit to 10. The junior finished as Pinewood’s second-leading scorer with 12 points.
The Panthers didn’t get any closer – Mitty went on a 9-2 run fueled by seven points from guard Ania McNicholas (game-high 21 points) – but Jump was still proud of the way her team played in the fourth.
“We kept fighting, and that’s something I love about our team,” she said. “We wanted this game.”
Jump also wants a rematch with Mitty, which could happen in the March 17 NorCal Open Division final if the third-seeded Panthers and No. 1 Monarchs win their first two games.
“That would be a great game,” she said.