By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
As the 2010-11 girls' basketball season got under way, talk quickly shifted to the obvious — that Pinewood and Eastside Prep could meet up to five times with one advancing to the CIF Division V state championship game.
There was no such talk about Palo Alto and Gunn. While the teams did have a natural rivalry, only the Titans had ever made it to a Central Coast Section final.
The chances of these two teams meeting in a CCS championship game was not much of an issue, until now.
Thanks to increased enrollments at both schools, the Vikings and Titans were elevated into Division I for the postseason and away from the likes of Presentation, Mitty and any other Catholic school that has ruined the hopes of Paly and Gunn over the years.
As the season progressed and victories by each team began to pile up, it finally did become obvious that the Vikings and Titans not only would qualify for the postseason but quite likely earn high seeds and — hold your breath — somehow wind up playing each other in the CCS championship game.
Could it be? Was it possible? Yes, it is.
For the first time since 1977, when 14 league champions were brought together for the first girls' CCS playoffs, No. 1-seeded Palo Alto (21-4) and No. 3-seeded Gunn (19-5) will face each other in the section finals. They'll meet Saturday at Santa Clara University at 6 p.m., with both teams also earning berths in the CIF NorCal playoffs that begin Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Gunn reached the 2009 CCS Division II finals, but lost to Mitty and eventually finished with a 29-3 record, best in school history. The current Titans, however, are in a better position to bring home the first section girls' title in school history.
"Absolutely," said Gunn coach Sarah Stapp. "This team is very special in its own right. It took that 2009 team until they were almost all seniors to make that championship game (granted they were in a division with Pres and Mitty) and this team has done it with nine healthy players (one freshman, five sophomores, and three juniors). We have an additional sophomore and junior who are out for the season."
Palo Alto, meanwhile, will be playing in its first CCS final. Coach Scott Peters guided his 2006 squad to a 25-5 record, but that squad fell in the semifinals — to Mitty.
"I think it is a great honor for our girls to get a chance to play for the CCS championship," Peters said. "I think the game with Gunn will be another war; should be very fun."
Palo Alto already has beaten Gunn twice on its way to completing its first 12-0 season ever in the SCVAL De Anza Division.
"I wouldn't say this third game is harder or easier for anyone, but I do feel the pressure is on Paly and not us," Stapp said. "They already have the league title, but the CCS title is what's up for grabs and I know if they were going to lose to us anytime this season they wouldn't want to lose this game. I think it's very hard to beat someone three times and I like where we are as a team heading into this game."
Palo Alto and Gunn advanced out of semifinal games Wednesday night at Christopher High in Gilroy.
The Vikings had the early game and struggled offensively — trailing at the half, 11-9, before stepping up its offense and clamping down its defense to beat No. 5 North Salinas, 33-25.
"We stuck with our game plan in the second half, of pressuring their ball-handlers, which helped us get some steals and easy shots," said 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."
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.
In the nightcap, 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.