By Tom Jacoubowsky
Special to Palo Alto Online Sports
The Gunn girls' basketball team made some history by winning its second straight Central Coast Section championship on Saturday at Santa Clara High.
Not only did the top-seeded Titans (19-6) win their second ever section crown, they also accomplished a feat no other public school has ever done (boys or girls) as they won each of their playoff game by more than 20 points -- capped with an easy 47-24 dispatching of No. 6 seed San Benito (15-12).
While the game did not have the emotional release of the previous year's 41-39 CCS title win over Palo Alto, it did have the satisfaction that the Titans are an impressive force that can impose their will on their opponent.
For the past five years, Gunn girls' basketball has been the premier public school program in the CCS and a large measure of that success goes to head coach Sarah Stapp. Under her tutelage, the Titans have earned four trips in the past five years to the CCS finals and the two aforementioned championships.
The trademark of the team has been a tenacious defense that suffocates opponents and, on this day, San Benito looked like it didn't know what hit them as didn't make their first basket of the game until a minute to go in the first half with Gunn leading 22-1.
"We really played strong defense," Stapp said in an understatement. "Everybody played well and contributed."
Everybody would be accurate as Gunn's swarming defense made San Benito look like they were going against seven defenders as many times the Haybalers would shoot the ball or throw a pass in desperation with no hope of it finding its mark.
The Titans forced 34 turnovers keyed by eight steals from senior Claire Klausner, who appears fully healthy after missing a couple of weeks of action due to illness.
In the beginning, the Gunn offense had trouble finding its own rhythm as the Titans were sluggish and only held a 5-1 lead late in the first period. Then lightening struck for the Titans as Zoe Zwerling connected on a 3-pointer that unleashed an offensive onslaught that put the game away
Zwerling's three-pointer started a 17-0 run that saw two 3- pointers by Olivia Tapia sandwiched around one by Nora Shevick as Gunn was in complete control as it built the lead to 22-1 before San Benito finally made a couple of baskets to close the halftime score to 24-5.
Early in the second half, both Klausner and Zwerling got their third foul and had to come to the bench. San Benito finally made a mini run late in the third as it scored eight straight points to cut the score to 33-19, but Karissa Ogawa calmly sank a 3-pointer to give the Titans a 36-19 lead after three.
The fourth period, Gunn's offense couldn't get on track and, with the score 36-22, San Benito tried to make another run. But, on one possession, Emily Redfield came out of nowhere for her fourth block of the game and then on another possession the larceny activities of Klausner continued as she stole the ball clean and went in for an easy layup. Seconds later Klausner caused another turnover that allowed Tapia to go in for another easy layup as Gunn pushed their lead to 40-22 with four minutes remaining.
From this point on it was just a question of whether or not Gunn would be able to win its third CCS playoff game by more than 20 points and Klausner made sure of it as she followed an Isabel Juang basket with a 3-pointer that made it 47-24 with a minute to go.
Klausner led all Gunn scorers with 12 points, followed by Tapia with 11. Scoring all their points in the first half were Shevick with seven and Zwerling with five. Also on the scoring ledger were Meghan Mahoney with four, Ogawa with three, Sarah Longyear and Juang with two apiece and Klem with one.
Gunn is slated to play a CIF Northern California playoff game on Wednesday. The opponent and the location of the game will be determined on Sunday.
"We know what to expect," said Stapp. "Most of the girls on this year's team played last year in NorCal and that experience will help."