While the Gunn girls played only 15 regular-season basketball games this season, the numbers game evidently hasn't worked against the Titans.
For the second straight year, Gunn defeated Piedmont Hills in the Central Coast Section Division I semifinals. That means for the fourth straight season, the Titans find themselves in the section championship game -- hoping to win their third straight crown.
Wednesday's 39-27 victory over Piedmont Hills set everything into motion as the Titans moved to 10-7 and edged the No. 4 Pirates' season at 20-9.
Gunn will face No. 2 North Salinas (24-2) in the championship game on Saturday at Independence High in San Jose at 6 p.m. North Salinas ended No. 3 Palo Alto's season with a 51-41 victory in an earlier semifinal at Gunn.
"We want state," said Gunn first-year head coach Melanie Murphy. "I expect a CCS championship from them and they know that. Even in the locker room that's what we're looking forward to -- those are our expectations."
Gunn senior guard Zoe Zwerling sank two clutch free throws to give her team a comfortable 37-27 lead with 22.6 remaining in the fourth quarter. On the next Titan possession, Zwerling went to the line again and drained two free throws, sealing the win.
Zwerling is no stranger to CCS playoffs. In her high school career she has been a part of five Gunn playoff teams -- four for basketball and one for water polo -- that have reached section finals.
Titans senior Camille Steger nailed a three-pointer to give her team the 9-7 advantage to end the first quarter. The Gunn offense committed no turnovers in the quarter.
Gunn went on a 9-0 run in the second quarter when junior Meghan Mahoney scored on a layup, giving the Titans a 18-9 lead. The Titans' defense was tough all game long as they held the Vikings to a 4:11 scoring drought during the quarter.
"We got a lot of stops on defense," said Murphy. "They were communicating and talking and did everything that we've asked them to do at practice. All positive thoughts, especially on our defensive effort."
Mahoney finished off the third quarter by sinking a free throw and giving the Titans a 27-24 lead going into the fourth quarter. The junior finished 7-of-10 from the line and totaled 11 points in addition to grabbing 13 rebounds.
The Gunn defense came up big again in the fourth quarter and gave up only three points to the Pirates' offense.
"I talked to the team before the quarter and told them 'This is do or die and this will end our season if we lose' so I think that kind of stuck with people," said Zwerling. "It's easy to get caught up in the heat of the game, but once we realized what was really on the line we saw what we had to do and we shut them down."
"We expect to bring a third one home to Gunn and we don't expect any less," said Murphy.
In the first semifinals, Palo Alto forged a 17-17 halftime deadlock but was outscored 13-5 in the third quarter and couldn't make up the difference against North Salinas.
"We got the shots we wanted and we just missed them," said Palo Alto head coach Scott Peters. "We played hard and I thought our defense was good. Sometimes you can't control the ball going in the hole."
On North Salinas' last eight possessions of the game, it converted 10 of 16 free throws.
Palo Alto freshman Lauren Koyama and senior Hope Crockett each nailed a three in the first quarter to give the Vikings the early 9-7 lead going into the second.
Vikings freshman Skylar Burris made two free throws with 58 seconds left in the second quarter, tying the game at halftime. The Vikings shot an appalling 4-of-36 from the field and only 46 percent from the line in the first half.
"The effort was good and we got the shots we wanted -- they just didn't go in," said Peters.
The third quarter didn't get any prettier for the Vikings as the offense went on a four-minute scoring drought and produced only two field goals. North Salinas would increase its lead to 30-22 to end the quarter.
Palo Alto's shooting stayed ice cold in the fourth quarter as it converted only 3-of-10 free throws. The offense totaled 24 turnovers and shot a dreadful 18 percent from the field.
"We have to use a hard loss as motivation to work harder in the off season," said Peters, who started three freshmen and two sophomores. "Finishing is something that the girls have to work on so I hope that will motivate them.
"They're great girls to coach. They wanted to get better and support the team, and as a coach, that's all you can ask for."
Division I boys
Menlo-Atherton kept its surprising season alive by advancing to the CCS title game for the first time since 2008 with a 60-46 win over No. 7 seed Homestead at Independence High. The No. 3-seeded Bears (18-8) will face No. 4 Bellarmine (11-16) on Saturday at Independence at 8 p.m. Only the winner will advance to the NorCal playoffs next week.
Bellarmine advanced with a 55-53 double-overtime win over No. 1 San Benito and has won five of the past six Division I titles.
Menlo-Atherton advanced by scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter as the Bears made 17 of 21 foul shots. Royce Branning led the way with 21 points.
Division V boys
West Bay Athletic League rivals Pinewood and Priory will meet for a third time this season, this time for the CCS championship on Friday at Notre Dame De Namur University in Belmont at 6 p.m.
Top-seeded Pinewood (22-4) advanced with a 59-49 win over host Alma Heights while No. 2 Priory (16-9) moved on with a 55-53 overtime win over No. 3 St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic.
Andy Isokpehi led Priory with 20 points, 15 rebounds, nine steals, five blocks and three assists while Connor Bonfiglio 14 and Scott Harris 13.
Pinewood will be seeking its fourth straight CCS title while making its fifth straight appearance. Ryan Brice led the Panthers with 23 points with Greg Naumann adding 11.
"I thought our effort was right on point vs. Alma Heights as we controlled much of the game," said Pinewood coach Mani Messy.