The Pinewood girls will be contending for a sixth state basketball championship this week in Sacramento. That, perhaps, it not a surprise. How the Panthers earned that coveted berth is.
The No. 2-seeded Panthers powered their way to a second consecutive CIF NorCal Division V title with an impressive 61-38 victory over top-seeded Brookside Christian on Saturday morning at American Canyon High.
Pinewood improved its overall record to 29-3 while the Knights ended their season at 28-5. The Panthers will play in the state finals on Friday at 10 a.m. at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento against the Southern California champion, La Jolla Country Day.
"La Jolla Country Day is a solid team but, not overwhelming," said Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler. "Solid program."
The school produced former Stanford All-American Candice Wiggins and reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Kelsey Plum of Washington.
Scheppler, meanwhile is now is 8-5 in NorCal championship games -- 8-2 at the Division V level -- and has won five state titles in 19 seasons.
"Just complete happiness right now," said Pinewood junior guard Marissa Hing, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. "I think winning this one we have a really good chance at state now. We've beat a lot of good teams this year; if we keep playing the way we've been playing, we should be good."
The Knights were held to only 22 percent field-goal shooting by the sturdy Pinewood defense. Brookside Christian's top scorer, junior Ra'Kyra Gabriel -- averaging 14.6 points per game -- was shackled and managed only seven points.
The Panthers came right out of the gate in the first quarter and nailed three 3-pointers to take the 15-8 lead going into the second period. Pinewood sank a total of nine shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
"In game like this where the scores are going to be a little lower," said Scheppler, "nine threes in a game -- that's huge."
Hing led the way in the second quarter, scoring nine of the Panthers' 11 points to give her team a 26-19 advantage going into halftime. The Knights shot only 24 percent in the first half.
"They had some good shooters. I think we did a really good job at minimizing their game today," said Scheppler.
Brookside Christian had four girls averaging over 10 points per game coming into the regional finals. Freshmen Kiara Manipol and Sydney Fryer were the top scorers for the Knights this season, but were sidelined due to injuries.
Pinewood junior forward Gabi Bade came up big for the Panthers in the third quarter when she scored 12 of the team's 20 points. The junior had a solid game, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds.
"Any time you're up seven or eight points within the first four minutes of the third quarter, it's huge. And when you jack that lead up to 13 or 14, it takes a little of their will away," said Scheppler.
The Panthers led by 20 following a pair of free throws by Bade, to make it a 46-26 lead in the third quarter. Pinewood never looked back after that.
Pinewood freshman Akayla Hackson made her debut in a NorCal finale and was solid with 10 points. Leeana Bade, the only senior among the starters, added nine while sophomore Chloe Eackles added eight points and 12 rebounds.
The much-smaller Pinewood team, with no player taller than 5-foot-10, outrebounded Brookside with a frontline of players standing 6-2 and 6-1, 46-37.
"Skills can sometimes win out over talent,'' Scheppler said. "We played an awesome game.''
La Jolla Country Day, the No. 3 seed in the south, knocked off No. 4 seed Immanuel of Reedley on Saturday morning, 54-33. La Jolla Country Day will bring a 20-11 record into the state finals.