The basketball season just got extended for six local teams, all of which advanced to Central Coast Section championship games on Saturday at Santa Clara University and earned berths into next week's CIF NorCal playoffs following semifinal victories on Wednesday night.
In CCS girls' Division I, top-seeded Palo Alto (21-4) and No. 3-seeded Gunn (19-5) will meet in a section final for the first time ever when the two rivals clash on Saturday at 6 p.m.
In CCS boys' Division V, top-seeded Pinewood (21-5) will face No. 3 Mid-Peninsula (21-2) for the first time in a section finale when the two square off on Saturday at noon.
And, in CCS Division V girls, it will be No. 1 Pinewood (23-5) and No. 2 Eastside Prep (21-7) meeting for the fourth time this season, this time for the section title at 10 a.m.
All six local teams found different ways to win their section semifinals.
At Christopher High in Gilroy, Palo Alto struggled offensively and trailed at the half, 11-9, before stepping up its offense and clamping down its defense to beat No. 5 North Salinas, 33-25, and reach a CCS title game for the first time in school history.
"We stuck with our game plan in the second half, of pressuring their ballhandlers, which helped us get some steals and easy shots," said Paly coach Scott Peters. "Our girls play very hard, with a lot of passion and effort. It may not be pretty to watch, but our girls are going to make you work for every inch of the court."
The Vikings played fullcourt, man-to-man defense that helped hold North Salinas's top scorer to just eight points.
"Lindsay Black, Shamelia Clay and Stephanie Allen took turns guarding her throughout the night," Peters explained. "This disrupted their offense."
Both teams struggled offensively and were plagued by turnovers -- the teams combined for more than 60 -- but the Vikings came up with the key stops when needed. Junior Emilee Osagiede led the way with 15 points while sophomore center Josie Butler grabbed 10 rebounds and swatted away numerous shots to further disrupt the North Salinas offense.
While Palo Alto is advancing to its first CCS title game, Gunn will be making its second. In the nightcap at Christopher School, the Titans rallied for an exciting 43-40 victory over No. 2 Gilroy (22-2). Julia Maggioncalda led Gunn with 13 points while fellow junior Cat Perez added 12.
The Titans trailed 40-36 with just over a minute remaining Nora Shevick hit a three-pointer with 1:12 left for a 40-39 game and then Gunn stopped Gilroy on back-to-back possession, with Maggioncalda grabbing the rebound each time and getting fouled. She made two with 43 seconds left to give Gunn the lead and hit two more with eight seconds remaining for the final margin of victory.
"Nora's shot was huge," said Gunn coach Sarah Stapp. "If we don't convert there, it could be all over."
Following Maggioncalda's four free throws, Gilroy had one more possession in front of its hometown fans, but was unable to get off a good shot. Gunn's Emily Redfield got rebound with a second remaining to end the final threat.
"The final minute was like a blur," said Stapp. "We did everything right and I couldn't be more proud of my girls."
Gunn's defensive effort made the difference with all the Titans contributing -- Shevick, Maggioncalda, Redfield, Perez, Claire Klausner, Zoe Zwerling and Sarah Klem.
"As big as Shevick's shot was," said Stapp, "her defense was just as important. She was huge after Zwerling fouled out."
Zwerling was the victim of two quick referee whistles seconds apart that her sitting on the bench for the final seven minutes.
Gunn bounced back from an early 6-0 deficit, with the Titans going on an 8-0 run in the third quarter to take a 29-23 lead with two minutes left. Gilroy battled back with a trio of three-pointers that pushed the Mustangs into the lead before Shevick and Maggioncalda turned things around for the Titans.
At the boys' Division V semifinals at St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic in Watsonville, Mid-Peninsula and Pinewood advanced in different fashion.
In the opener, Pinewood went on a 31-13 run to finish the game during a 59-39 triumph over No. 4 Crystal Springs (13-13). Junior Solomone Wolfgramm had 16 points and 14 rebounds while Dante Fraioli added 19 points, three steals and two assists. The Panthers grabbed 22 offensive rebounds and held the Gryphons to 25 percent shooting, including 19 percent from three-point range, in what amounted to a rematch of the team's two West Bay Athletic League games that Pinewood also won.
Pinewood grabbed a 28-15 halftime lead before Crystal cut the deficit to just two, just three minutes into the third quarter, on a flurry of three-pointers by junior Andrew Lim. Fraioli responded with a pair of threes and Pinewood never looked back.
Pinewood will be looking to win its first CCS title since 1996 against explosive Mid-Peninsula, which had to go into overtime before holding off defending champion St. Francis-CCC, 68-65, to reach its first-ever CCS title game.
The host and No. 2-seeded Sharks (16-11) made a halfcourt shot with 1.3 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
"After they made that shot, we could have fallen apart," said Mid-Peninsula coach Curtis Haggins.
The Dragons, however, didn't. They opened the extra frame with a layup before hitting nine free throws to hold off the hometown team. Senior Lydell Cardwell provided the winning points on two charity tosses and finished with 31 points while Reggie Williams added 18.
"I'm proud of these kids," said Haggins. "We're just enjoying the ride."
At the Division V girls' semifinals in Los Altos Hills, host Pinewood and Eastside Prep advanced to the CCS finals as expected.
Top-seeded Pinewood cruised to a 75-26 victory over No. 4 St. Francis-CCC (18-11) as Hailie Eackles poured in 26 points and Casey Cairo nailed six 3-pointers and finished with 20. The Panthers rolled to a 55-16 halftime lead and were never threatened.
Second-seeded Eastside Prep used its pressure defense to defeat No. 3 Castilleja, 62-34, and avenge last season's semifinal loss to the Gators (13-15). Ahjalee Harvey scored 25 points and fellow senior Takara Burse added 22 while the Panthers limited Castilleja senior scoring leader Natasha von Kaeppler to just 13 points.