"I want their goals to be high," Scheppler said of his returning players. "Maybe we'll play in the Open Division next year. I think we're good enough."
Open Division? The Panthers have made two forays into the Open Division of the Central Coast Section playoffs the past two seasons and have come away with 2-3 record and no titles against teams like Mitty, Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Ignatius — the latter of which won this year's section crown over SH Cathedral. Neither CCS finalist, however, made it past the opening round of NorCals.
Scheppler, however, loses only one starter (Leeana Bade) among his three graduating seniors and has transfer Nia Craig waiting to step into the lineup next season. If that name sounds familiar it's because it is. She's the daughter of Roger Craig, the former running back with San Francisco 49ers.
Nia, who played her first two years at Mitty before transferring to Pinewood, is a sturdy 5-foot-10 prospect who will add perhaps a new dimension to the Panthers' program. She averaged eight points and six rebounds her sophomore season. Mitty won a state title in Craig's freshman year.
"She's not a perimeter-oriented as Leeana," said Scheppler, "but (an) inside presence for us at both ends. We'll have another way to get easy baskets."
That's just what Pinewood opponents don't want to hear, especially after watching the Panthers put on a clinic while routing La Jolla Country Day, 60-42, in the state finals at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Pinewood rolled to a 26-point halftime lead while finishing the season 30-3. For the Torreys (20-12), it was their fourth-worst loss of the season.
The crown came on the 15th anniversary of Pinewood's first state title in 1999.
"Somebody put a coat hanger in my mouth cause I'm gonna be smiling all day long," said an obviously pleased c Scheppler after the game. "(The) goal is always to be the best you can . . . I couldn't be happier . . . it doesn't get old."
La Jolla Country Club came into the finale having not given up more than 35 points in any game this season. Pinewood surpassed that by halftime, setting the tone for the lopsided game that made the school the winningest Division V team in state history.
The Torreys were pressured into 18 turnovers in the first half, during which the Panthers led by as many as 26 points. A 15-0 run in the second quarter gave Pinewood a 32-9 lead. Sisters Gabi and Leeana Bade combined for three 3-pointers during that run with Gabi tallying eight points, including back-to-back treys.
Pinewood pushed its lead to 30 points on three occasions in the third quarter as it spread the court and took the ball to the basket more often than not as La Jolla had no answer defensively.
"There's not a whole lot of teams that can play with us if they go man," said junior point guard Marissa Hing.
Somewhat surprisingly, Pinewood made only four 3-pointers in the game — four of nine in the first half — tying its lowest production of the season. The Panthers came into the game as the No. 2 girls' team in the state with 289 treys made, but didn't need to go to its 3-point game as La Jolla allowed easy penetration with a perimeter defense that focused on stopping Pinewood's 3-point shooting.
"I couldn't be more happy for our girls," said Scheppler. "We work really hard in practice. It's a great testament to our work ethic."
For the past 4-5 years, Pinewood has prepared for early morning championship games — the NorCal and state finals both started at 10 a.m. — by practicing at that time on non-school days.
"Knowing the early morning start time of D5 NorCal (last two years) and state championship games, we think it's a visionary concept of where we want to be and, when we do get there, knowing we are prepared to be at our very best at that time in all facets."
Pinewood certainly looked ready to play at 10 a.m. last Friday while La Jolla Country Day did not. The game, effectively, was over by halftime.
Hing led Pinewood with 17 points. She made 13 of 16 from the free-throw line, equaling the No. 2 mark in state playoff history for free throws made — sharing the mark with Candice Wiggins, who played at La Jolla Country Day before earning All-American honors at Stanford.
The Bade sisters evenly split 26 points, with Leeana grabbing eight rebounds, and sophomore Chloe Eackles tallied 10 points. Freshman Akayla Hackson contributed seven points in her first state finale.
La Jolla's standout sophomore Mai-loni Henson, who came in averaging 15.2 points a game, had no field goals in the first half while scoring just three points. She finished with 12 plus a game-high 16 rebounds. Sophomore Mariana Ecija led the Torreys with 18 points.
La Jolla turned the ball over 26 times to just 11 for Pinewood, which more than made up for last year's loss in the state title game. The Panthers now have won six times in eight appearances in the state finals. Their 6-2 record is tied for No. 3 all-time in girls' state history with Long Beach Poly (6-1) and Bishop Montgomery-Torrance (6-1). They trail only Brea Olinda (9-2) and St. Mary's-Stockton (7-2) for most titles.
Scheppler believes his team's 61-38 victory over Brookside Christian in the NorCal finals really set the stage for another state championship.
"The Brookside game gave us the belief that we were really good," Scheppler said. "We played our best half vs. a good team on both ends. We also knew we could exploit some weaknesses (in the state final). La Jolla Country Day wasn't comfortable handling the ball, had some offensive players we could help off a lot. We identified defensive deficiencies in their half court and that allowed us to attack the basket or have kick-outs for 3s. The girls executed our distinctive style to perfection."
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