Panthers' D leads to 'W'

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Pinewood’s Annika Decker drives to the basket in Friday’s game.

The Pinewood School girls basketball team may not have the same caliber of 3-point shooters as last year’s squad, which reached the state final, but these Panthers are in the same league defensively.

As it’s done on several occasions this season, Pinewood Friday overcame a poor shooting night from behind the 3-point line (7-of-27) with a dynamic defensive effort. The host Panthers prevailed 43-36 over Menlo, held to its lowest output of the season.

“Our defense is huge – always has been,” said junior guard Annika Decker, who had a game-high 16 points. “That’s something that makes Pinewood, Pinewood.”

Menlo has been well aware of that, suffering lopsided loss after lopsided loss to the Panthers before upsetting them 46-45 three weeks ago. Pinewood, playing in front of a near-capacity crowd Friday, clamped down on the Knights from start to finish. Menlo made just 13 of its 62 shots (21%), with eight of those attempts blocked by the Panthers.

“We rushed their shots, we blocked their 3s,” Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler said. “We had a great game plan that the girls followed as far as identifying people that are shooters only, for the most part.”

That’s how the Panthers survived their own shooting woes (33% from the field) to improve to 5-1 in the West Bay Athletic League. Although Pinewood slipped to 16-2 overall with Saturday’s 49-39 non-league loss to Salesian, it’s still allowing a stingy 37.5 points per game.

The addition of 6-foot-3 junior Maia Garcia, a transfer from Santa Clara, has helped the cause by providing length the Panthers lacked last year. The team’s top rebounder and shot blocker this season, she grabbed 13 boards and swatted three shots Friday.

“Maia just had her hands up and she’s just there – perfect timing for her blocks,” Decker said in complimenting Garcia’s efforts.

While Pinewood’s defense was close to perfect in the first half – limiting Menlo to a mere 13 points – the Panthers’ offense was far from it, which is why they only led by four at the break.

“I thought we were a little edgy on offense,” Scheppler said. “I thought edgy as far as missing some shots – you know, ‘Come on, that should go in’ – and it’s hard to transfer your defensive intensity into offensive execution, calmness, belief.”

After Courtni Thompson made the game’s first points on a 3 with 6:22 to go in the opening stanza, Pinewood missed 11 straight shots from beyond the arc. Una Jovanovic ended the drought with a top-of-the-key swish that put Pinewood up 10-7 with 5:12 left in the second quarter. Decker scored the Panthers’ final seven points of the period, starting with a layin off a steal.

Menlo’s Avery Lee barely beat the shot clock on a 3 in the last minute that cut Pinewood’s advantage to 17-13 at halftime.

Valentina Saric opened the third quarter with a 3 – the start of a 7-3 run by the Panthers – and capped it with another trey to put her team up 31-25. That sparked a 10-0 spurt by Pinewood, with Decker’s midrange push shot making it 38-25 with 6:06 to play.

But Menlo (4-2 league, 16-3 overall) wouldn’t go away. The Knights scored the next six points and, after Jovanovic hit two free throws, cut their deficit to six on Coco Layton’s 3 with 2:07 left.

Jovanovic made sure they didn’t get any closer, burying a 3 with 57 seconds to go that Scheppler called “the dagger.” The junior totaled 10 points.

“That was so exciting,” Decker said of Jovanovic’s key 3. “I was so happy she got that one.”

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