Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 24, 2014

Pinewood's 15-1 start is its best since 2001

by Ari Kaye

The Pinewood girls have won five CIF Division V state basketball titles under veteran coach Doc Scheppler. The first came in 1999 with the most recent in 2011. During that time, however, the Panthers have won 15 of their first 16 games only three times.

One of those squads is his current one, which is 15-1 overall following a 54-50 victory over West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) rival Eastside Prep on Tuesday night in Los Altos Hills.

The victory left Pinewood alone in first place at 3-0 and equaled the program's best start since 2001.

"The '01 team was an awesome machine," said Scheppler. "The '01, '02 and '03 teams all made it to the NorCal finals in D-2 and lost. That's when you could move up. Imagine if the girls would have wanted to stay D-5 . . . all great teams."

The 2014 Panthers are pretty good, as well.

"I thought this team could accomplish a lot of great things," Scheppler said of his current group. "We can be even better with the continual development of our freshman and getting some consistency from our returners. This team can shoot with any of our past teams but, defensively, we're not close to those previous teams — individually or collectively.

"We're just as athletic, but our principles and focus aren't at a championship level . . . lots of improvement to be experienced."

Scheppler's young team, which has just three seniors plus four freshmen, gained valuable experience against Eastside Prep as 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.

"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."

While Pinewood moved into sole possession of first place, Eastside Prep (2-1, 10-7) fell into a tie for second place with Menlo School.

Last season, Pinewood and Eastside Prep faced each other four times, with Eastside Prep winning the first three games, 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.

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 fullcourt 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 the PAL South Division, Menlo-Atherton snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating Capuchino, 68-65, on Wednesday night in San Bruno.

With senior co-captain Emma Heath scoring six of her 22 points midway through the first quarter, the Bears jumped out to a 15-4 lead and it looked like they would cruise to an easy victory. But, the Mustangs kept coming back to close the lead to two near the end of end of the half.

M-A pushed the lead to 15 at the end of third quarter with Junior forward Naomi Baer scoring five of her 17 points and freshman Post Ofa Sili scoring all 10 of her points. However, in the fourth Capuchino roared back with 24 points.

The Mustangs' Brianna Deckman hit a 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining to make it a two- point game. In the final seconds, M-A converted a free throw and protected the ball to put the game away.

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