Despite suffering back-to-back losses in the new Open Division of the Central Coast Section basketball playoffs earlier this month, Pinewood girls' coach Doc Scheppler has to be a big fan of the new addition to the postseason playoffs.
Brookside Christian, which won the CIF Division V state championship last season, moved up to the Open Division this season and removed a big hurdle in the way of anyone harboring D-5 title hopes.
"We were EXTREMELY fortunate that Brookside Christian was moved up to the Open Division," said Scheppler.
Had Brookside Christian remained in Division V, it's quite possible Pinewood would not be in Sacramento at Sleep Train Arena on Friday (10 a.m.) playing for its sixth state championship. To that, Scheppler tips his cap to last year's champ.
Pinewood (23-8) will go after some more history when it takes on Sierra Canyon (26-9) of Chatsworth for the Division V state title. The Panthers are making their third trip to the finals in four years and seventh appearance all-time. No other Division V team in state history can match that.
The title game matchup pits teams that knocked off No. 1 seeds in their respective NorCal and SoCal championship games. Sierra Canyon upended Horizon Christian, 63-62, and Pinewood toppled Eastside Prep, 48-36.
"I'm not surprised we are playing in a championship game," said Scheppler. "We have the ability to play at this level."
The Panthers proved that with their victory over Eastside Prep and their history of playing for state titles.
"The team we're playing is extremely long and athletic and can pose a significant problem for us, IF they play frenetically and create trapping situations. We haven't handled those types of teams well this year because of our youth and basketball inexperience. We are still a work in progress."
With no time to do much scouting or planning for Sierra Canyon, Scheppler will stick with what got the Panthers to the finals.
"We have a similar mindset -- take away easy baskets inside and force non-shooters to beat you on the perimeter," he said. "In big games, or any games for that matter, getting easy baskets is crucial in being successful offensively. You can do that by press, steal, layup . . . having an inside scorer . . . dominating the offensive boards . . . having set plays whose end product is a layup.
"When our Pinewood teams are at a size disadvantage, we have to take the inside away by double teams in the post and holding our own on the boards. On the offensive end, we use our offensive skills to create the shots we want as a team -- layups, floaters, 3's and free throws. Our strongest asset is our shot selection. If they take away our 3's, it leaves the rim open."
Pinewood will face another tall team that features 6-1 Kennedy Burke plus three other players standing 5-10 or 5-11. Then again, Eastside Prep put 6-3 Destiny Graham and 6-0 Hashima Carothers on the floor and Pinewood still found a way to win.
"We are excited to be playing on this stage," Scheppler said. "and I know this experience will greatly benefit their improvement as athletes."
Pinewood will lose only one player off this team, Angelina Mapa. Sophomores and juniors make up the core of the team that held opponents to an average of 29.3 points in three NorCal playoff games.