Coming into the first of two crucial basketball showdowns against rival Eastside Prep, Pinewood head coach Doc Scheppler wasn't sure if his sharpshooting squad would get many clean perimeter looks against an athletic Eastside Prep defense.
His fears turned out to be largely unfounded, as Eastside Prep did not have the depth necessary to play an aggressive man-to-man defense against Pinewood. Instead, Eastside Prep, which dressed six girls and played only five, opted to employ a 2-3 zone defense in order to conserve energy and stay out of foul trouble.
Pinewood capitalized on that defensive alignment, draining 11 3-pointers, en route to a 54-50 win over their West Bay Athletic League rival on Tuesday night in Los Altos Hills.
"If we move the ball and get good clean looks at our threes we are a hard team to beat," Scheppler said. "We hit the shots we needed to win the game."
With the victory, Pinewood (3-0, 15-1) moves into sole possession of first place in the Foothill Division of the WBAL, while Eastside Prep (2-1, 10-7) falls into a tie for second place with Menlo.
This is Pinewood's best start since 2001, when the Panthers also were 15-1 after 16 games. They went on to finish 27-3, losing in the NorCal Division II finals.
Last season, Pinewood and Eastside Prep faced each other four times, with Eastside Prep winning the first three matches, and Pinewood exacting its revenge in the NorCal Division V championship. Pinewood's experience playing Eastside Prep last season gave Scheppler an idea for what type of defense might work in this year's contest.
"We found something defensively that took advantage of their lack of a consistent three-point shooting attack," Scheppler said. "Some of them can shoot fairly well. But most of them, their strengths are they are athletic and can drive."
Junior Marissa Hing led Pinewood with 16 points, while junior Monique McDevitt chipped in 12 points on four second-half 3-pointers. A couple of freshmen also made big contributions for Pinewood, as Erin Poindexter-McHan poured in a career-high 11 points, while Akayla Hackson and Priya Sundaresan each chipped in four points off the bench.
"All of our freshman really stepped up," Hing said. "Usually freshmen are a little nervous, but these guys come out and play hard. They contribute a lot."
The Eastside Prep scoring attack was led by junior Brije Byers and senior Alexus Simon, who contributed 22 and 11 points, respectively. The Panthers' 6-foot-3 Destiny Graham, however, was limited to just two free throws as Pinewood sophomore Chloe Eackles did a fine job defensively while forcing Graham away from the basket.
Pinewood struggled shooting the ball early in the game and, despite eight first-quarter points from Poindexter-McHan, the host Panthers found themselves down 20-10 midway through the second quarter.
Needing a spark offensively, Pinewood turned to its point-guard, Hing, to provide some scoring punch. The junior was fouled on a made three-point attempt, and converted the four-point play to spark an 11-0 run for Pinewood.
"(The four-point play) was good for me. When I hit one shot, that's when I start to get going," said Hing, who scored eight points in the second quarter.
Pinewood ended up outscoring Eastside Prep, 20-4, the rest of the quarter and led 30-24 at halftime.
After a low-scoring third quarter, McDevitt opened up the fourth quarter by hitting two 3-pointers, to give Pinewood a seemingly insurmountable 46-30 lead.
However, Eastside Prep began to claw its way back into the game, thriving off an aggressive full-court press that turned Pinewood turnovers into layups for Eastside Prep.
"I thought they attacked more in the fourth quarter. They became more aggressive. They are good when they do that," Scheppler said of Eastside Prep. "They are very well-coached, very disciplined, and play hard."
With a little under three minutes to go, Byers converted a layup off a Pinewood turnover to cut the Pinewood lead to 49-46.
Pinewood responded on its next possession, as Eackles secured an offensive rebound and passed out to Hing, who drilled an open 3-pointer.
"That was a real dagger three for us," Scheppler said.
After Hing's 3-pointer, Eastside Prep never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
The two teams will see each other again shortly, as they square off at Eastside Prep on Feb. 7.
Scheppler had a number of areas he felt his team could improve on before the rematch against Eastside Prep, including taking better care of the ball, and playing with more composure down the stretch.
Still, the Pinewood head coach was very pleased by his team's overall performance.
"It's a big win at home," Scheppler said. "We're going to celebrate the win. I'm proud of our girls."
In Atherton, Menlo moved into a tie for second place in the WBAL Foothill Division with a 59-43 victory over host Sacred Heart Prep. The Knights improved to 2-1 (11-6 overall) while the Gators dropped to 1-2 (10-7).
Menlo, which had struggled with its shooting from the floor in recent games, shot 45 percent -- including 41 percent (9 of 22) from 3-point range. Hannah Paye was 4 of 8 from long range (6 of 10 overall) and finished with a game-high 18 points. Fellow sophomore Sarah Rantz made five of her six shots and finished with 13 points while freshman Sammie Erisman had 10 points and eight assists.
Those three combined to shoot 14 of 21 from the floor (66 percent). Olivia Pellarin grabbed eight rebounds and had three blocks for the Knights.
SHP was led by sophomore Riley Hemm's 14 points. She was the only player in double figures for the Gators.
In Hillsborough, Castilleja's best defensive effort in nearly two years resulted in a 52-15 win at Crystal Springs on Tuesday afternoon. Led by Paige Vermeeer's 11 first-quarter points, the Gators took a 17-4 lead and never looked back as nine different players scored.
Vermeer finished with 17 points and seven steals while Maddie Tarr had 10 points and six steals. Yasmeen Afifi added seven points and 10 boards, and Abby Lowell pulled down six rebounds. Castilleja (8-8 overall, 3-0 in WBAL Skyline division) travels to Harker on Friday night.
In nonleague action, Menlo-Atherton (10-6) dropped a 58-44 decision to host Presentation despite jumping out to a 9-2 lead. M-A was within 30-23 at the half and 43-33 entering the fourth quarter before the Panthers (10-6) pulled away.
The Bears welcomed back senior co-captain Emma Heath, who missed games last week with a concussion. She led M-A with 14 points while fellow co-captain Sarah Howell added 13.
Senior forward Chandler Wickers scored three goals to lead host Menlo School to a 5-0 victory over Priory in WBAL Foothill Division action Tuesday in Atherton.
The win was the fourth consecutive WBAL victory for the Knights, who have outscored the opposition by 23-0 in the past four matches.
Wickers tallied her first goal in the opening 10 minutes on an accurate shot from 10 yards out off an assist from senior Sienna Stritter. Wickers' next goal came from close range off a cross from junior Jamie Corley in the 32nd minute. Junior Alexandra Walker pushed the halftime lead to 3-0 with a 23-yard unassisted shot.
Wickers' third goal was unassisted from 15 yards out in the fifth minute of the second half. Then Stritter beat two defenders on the dribble and scored from 12 yards out in the 20th minute. Sophomore keeper Schuyler Tilney-Volk had 10 saves, including a couple of exceptional stops, to earn her fourth consecutive shutout.
Also in Atherton, host Sacred Heart Prep remained three points behind Menlo following a 4-0 win over Notre Dame-San Jose. The Gators (3-0-1, 9-1-2) have played one less game.
Sophomore Carey Bradley provided the eventual winning goal in the eighth minute off an assist from senior Alex Bourdillon, who later scored in the 21st and 65th minutes with assists from Cameron Gordon and Tierna Davidson, respectively. Freshman Katie Harrison scored in the 50th minute (unassisted) to make it 3-0.
At the Mayfield Soccer Complex, Castilleja dropped a 2-1 decision to visiting King's Academy. Anais Sarrazin scored the tying goal for the Gators (1-3, 3-6) with an assist from Victoria Pu before the Knights got the winner.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton suffered its first defeat of the season to host Carlmont, 2-0. The Scots stunned the Bears (3-1-1, 7-1-3) early in the game when a free kick awarded to Carlmont made its way into the box and found the head of an ongoing forward who headed it over the keeper's head into the goal in the fourth minute of the game. Despite outshooting the Scots, 6-2, in the first half, the Bears could not find the net.
In the second half, it was a very physical battle and both sides only managed about three shots the remainder of the game. Carlmont got on the board a second time about 15 minutes into the half when a cross from the right forward deflected off an M-A defender and into the goal past the outstretched arms of the keeper.