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Garcia is center of attention in Panthers' playoff win

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Pinewood’s Maia Garcia looks to shoot against Sacred Heart Prep in Friday’s CCS Open Division quarterfinal game.

In years past, the Pinewood School girls basketball team didn’t need a 6-footer to succeed. This season, the Panthers have come to depend on 6-foot-2 center Maia Garcia – especially when their shots aren’t falling from beyond the arc.

That certainly was the case Friday night in the Central Coast Section Open Division quarterfinals at Gunn. Garcia helped the second-seeded Panthers compensate for their 3-point shooting woes (4 for 23) by scoring a team-high 15 points in the 57-35 blowout of No. 7 Sacred Heart Prep.

“If we’re not shooting well from 3, then we’ve got to rely on getting to the basket,” Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler said. “And this year, we have a post presence in there that we just run a set and if there’s help from her (defender), then we’re going to get a layup with the 6-2 girl.”

Garcia – a transfer from Santa Clara who sat out last season – made six of her seven shots from the field, highlighted by a layin off an inbound pass that just beat the first-quarter buzzer. The junior also made all three of her free throws and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.

“I feel really honored that Doc adjusted the system to fit how I play as well as how the rest of the players play,” said Garcia, whose scoring average of 9.6 points per game ranks third on the team. “It really helped that the system was changed to fit how Annika and I play together.”

That would be Annika Decker, who assisted on a few of Garcia’s point-blank baskets. The point guard totaled a game-high six assists and also chipped in 10 points.

Both players made an impact on defense as well, helping the Panthers hold the Gators to 18 percent shooting. Decker produced four steals, including two in the backcourt that resulted in easy layins for the junior.

Sacred Heart Prep committed 10 turnovers in the first half, which ended with Pinewood comfortably ahead 29-13. The Panthers, who never trailed, scored the last seven points of the half. Una Jovanovic ignited the run with a top-of-the-key 3. The junior scored all 10 of her points prior to intermission.

“Still not as smooth running as I’d like them to be,” Scheppler said of his squad, “but we hit big shots when they were close, and then we created more separation.”

Pinewood extended its lead to 40-22 by the end of the third quarter, despite going 0-for-6 from deep.

“I think that we came out with confidence, so it was really easy for us to continue pushing even if we missed shots,” Garcia said. “We didn’t shoot very well today, but we continued to run for the boards and crash in. And we never gave up on defense, even if they hit a shot.”

Garcia made the Panthers’ first two shots of the fourth, sparking a 9-0 spurt that featured a 3-point swish by Courtni Thompson (nine points). The run gave Pinewood its biggest lead at 49-22. Pinewood (22-3 overall) soon emptied its bench, though Sacred Heart (15-8) still wasn’t able to get much closer.

The Panthers, who handily beat the Gators twice in West Bay Athletic League play, advance to tonight’s semifinals to face another familiar foe – No. 3 Menlo. Pinewood split its two league games with the Knights (20-5) this year. The game is set to tip off at 7 p.m. at Gunn.

The winner advances to Friday’s final, slated to start at 6 p.m. at Stanford University’s Maples Pavilion.

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