A night earlier, the Panthers had ended Pinewood's historic 149-game league winning streak, one that began back in 1995 when the current players probably had no idea what a basketball was. Eastside Prep's 46-38 victory was accomplished with just five players while reserve Cinthia Cunningham watched along with injured starter Takara Burse.
Eastside's Fab Five played all out against Pinewood in the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) opener. No one fouled out, despite constant defensive pressure. When all was said and done, Eastside Prep (1-0, 12-2) had exorcised some demons and Pinewood (0-1, 9-5), feeling a little shell-shocked, was looking forward to just getting a split in its league outings this week.
The day off for the Eastside players probably won't be the first time it happens this season. While Burse recovers from a leg injury, Eastside coach Donovan Blythe has only six healthy players. Practices are on the creative side, to say the least.
"There aren't too many teams that are doing what my team is doing," Blythe said after the victory. That would be winning and surviving, something the Panthers are both doing well, thus far.
This is a team that went only 15-15 last season, one year after winning the Central Coast Section Division V title and advancing to the NorCal finals before losing — finishing a remarkable 31-2. Current junior standout Ahjalee Harvey broke a foot last season with the team off to a 11-5 start. She didn't return until the CCS semifinals, where Eastside Prep lost to Pinewood by a point.
Current senior Felicia Anderson had left the team before Harvey's injury. She's back now to give the Panthers a solid one-two punch until Burse returns. There's also scrappy 5-foot-1 junior guard Leanne Martin, 5-6 junior Ausjerae Holland, and 6-foot freshman Hashima Carothers, plus the aforementioned Cunningham, a sophomore. That's it.
And that was enough on Tuesday as Anderson made four three-pointers and finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Harvey scored 12 of her 13 points in the first half as the Panthers raced to a 26-8 lead. Carothers pulled down 14 rebounds and scored eight big points and Martin contributed a basket to the monumental victory.
"It was a great high school game," Blythe said. "You want to be challenged."
For a while, it appeared that Eastside Prep would not be challenged. Pinewood, which reached the CIF Division V state finals last season but still has three starters sidelined by ACL injuries, couldn't buy (or make) a shot in the first quarter. Pinewood had only two points via free throws by junior Hailie Eackles. She added two baskets in the second quarter, scoring all eight of her team's points.
When Eastside Prep opened the second half with Holland and Anderson hitting three-pointers and Holland adding another basket, it was 34-8. Pinewood came alive at that point and outscored Eastside, 30-12, the rest of the way but the damage had been done.
Pinewood trimmed its deficit to just eight points (44-36) when Kelsey Morehead scored and was fouled. She made the free throw and the Panthers had a flicker of hope with 2:14 left to play. Carothers, however, took a pass from Harvey, one of her seven assists, and scored with 1:47 left to play to make it a 46-36 game. That put the game out of reach for Pinewood, despite Eackles' final basket and game-high 21 points.
"They outplayed us," said Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler. "We struggled with our emotions — a big game, hadn't played in two weeks, and not getting off to a good start. I thought the difference was confidence; you have to believe your shots are going in."
After an awful shooting display in the first half, Pinewood warmed up and finished 13 of 43 (30 percent), which included 4-of- 21 from three-point range.
Scheppler believed another factor was motivation, that Eastside Prep wanted to avenge an early season loss (44-43) in the Notre Dame-Belmont tournament along with two losses to Pinewood last season in league play — one that was an embarrassment with Harvey and Anderson gone.
"They were motivated to play," Scheppler said of Eastside's players. "They out-fought us on a lot of plays. Eastside's aggressive defense hurt the quality of our shots . . . I was proud of how we played (in rallying), but the mistakes we made were uncharacteristic. Fortunately for us, we get to match up with them (at least) a couple of more times."
Scheppler is hoping to get back one of his three injured players, 5-10 junior Jenna McLoughlin, in the next 2-3 weeks. Senior Rachel Marty and junior Caitlin Ciardella, however, are done for the season with their ACL injuries.
That pretty much levels the playing field for the WBAL season. Pinewood has to travel to Castilleja on Friday (6:30 p.m.) just hoping to get a split in its opening week of the season. That's something Scheppler never has been concerned with before.
Eastside Prep, meanwhile, returns to action Friday against visiting Mercy-San Francisco (6:30 p.m.) before visiting Castilleja next Tuesday (6 p.m.) and in another early season showdown of WBAL contenders.
It's going to be that way week in and out.
Castilleja also had to shake off some rustiness from a holiday layoff, but did so in a 50-23 win over host Sacred Heart Prep on Tuesday.
Neither team scored in the opening 3:45 before a Sacred Heart Prep free throw broke the ice. The teams also combined to miss their first 14 shots from the field en route to a combined nine first-quarter points. Castilleja finally pulled its game together in the second as it went on a 17-0 run to bury the homestanding Gators.
Sacred Heart got to within 11 by the end of the half, but Castilleja continued its strong play on defense by forcing a season-high 24 steals to spark its fast break. Senior Eve Zelinger (game-high 15 points, two blocks), the WBAL's all-time leading scorer, tied her own school record with nine steals, while senior Tayo Amos (seven points, six rebounds, three assists) and sophomore Riya Modi (10 points, game-high five assists, five rebounds) each recorded career highs of six and five thefts, respectively. Castilleja junior Natasha von Kaeppler posted a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds days after returning from China on a school trip.
Also in Atherton, the Menlo girls won their first-ever WBAL Foothill Division game with a 49-31 triumph over previously unbeaten Mercy-San Francisco (0-1, 13-1) as the Knights (1-0, 9-4) overcame an early 10-3 deficit. At that point, Menlo went on a tear and took a 21-17 halftime lead. The Knights held the visitors to just 14 second-half points.
Menlo freshman post Drew Edelman used her 6-foot-2 height well to score 19 points and grab 13 rebounds for her 13th double-double this season. Junior guard Emma Paye added 10 points and 10 rebounds as the Knights avenged last season's Central Coast Section playoff loss to Mercy.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, host Gunn (1-2, 4-6) snapped a three-game losing streak while winning its first division game, 56-43, over Saratoga on Tuesday.
Senior Rachael Clark led Gunn with 18 points and 10 rebounds while sophomore Cat Perez added 11 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Freshman point guard Claire Klausner added eight points, three rebounds and three steals.
In a PAL Bay Division opener, Menlo-Atherton (0-1, 5-10) let an eight-point lead in the third quarter slip away as the Bears suffered a 57-52 loss to host Mills on Tuesday.
"We still had a four-point lead in the fourth quarter," said M-A coach Pam Wimberly, "but they tied it and then we only got maybe six points the rest of the game."
Wimberly believed her sophomore guards, Alex Flowers and Melodie Turner, just wilted under the late-game fullcourt pressure applied by Mills that resulted in the Bears turning the ball over six times in the final quarter.
"We played well for 27 minutes, but we panicked at the end," Wimberly said.
Jessica Tuliau led the Bears again with 22 points, giving her 72 in the past three games. Turner contributed 14 points while sophomore Tennyson Jellins added 12.