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Menlo School girls successfully defend their CCS hoop title

 

Throughout this season, Castilleja and Menlo School both employed extremely similar defensive philosophies: be aggressive.

Coming into Saturday's championship, Castilleja's defense had averaged 13.4 steals per game, while Menlo's full-court press had helped the Knights average 9.6 steals.

It was therefore no surprise that turnovers became one of the deciding factors when the two teams faced off against each other.

Menlo ended up committing 16 fewer turnovers than Castilleja on Saturday, as the No. 2 Knights cruised to a Division IV CCS girls' basketball championship by beating the No. 5 Gators, 49-40, at Independence High.

"You never what to expect in a championship game," said Menlo head coach John Paye, who guided the Knights to a CCS title last season, as well. "It's been two years in a row where there's been multiple upsets in our division, so we were just fortunate to just play well in every one of our games."

The Knights (18-11) were led in scoring by their freshman point guard Sam Erisman, who poured in 17 points on four made field goals and nine made free throws.

"I can't say enough about Sam's (performance)," Paye said. "Sam hurt her knee a month ago, and there was a question whether she was even going to come back for the season. As soon as she heard we qualified for CCS she says 'I'm fine.' I haven't been able to keep her off the floor since."

Sophomore Hannah Paye, put up 13 points from the shooting guard position, while senior Mackenzie Duffner made a big impact for the Knights down low with 11 rebounds to go with her six points.

Castilleja (20-10) was led in scoring by Ellie Chen, who had 13 points, and Paige Vemeer, who had 11 points.

The Gators' 6-foot-2 center Yasmeen Afifi, who had a combined 42 points and 33 rebounds in Menlo's three previous CCS victories, was held to just two points and eight rebounds.

Afifi also picked up three personal fouls in the first quarter and fouled out of the game a little more than a minute into the third quarter.

"Defensively, we just wanted to sandwich Afifi and make sure she didn't get too many points because she's their strongest player," Erisman said.

Fouls were a big issue for both teams throughout the contest, as four player fouled out during the game, including Vermeer and Paye.

The game started with the Knight's full-court pressure working particularly well, as they forced the Gators into 12 of their 25 turnovers in first quarter alone.

Menlo led comfortably for much of the first half, but Castillaja began to fight back late in the second half, cutting a one-time 13-point deficit down to just five.

Erisman answered for the Knights just before halftime, as she converted an old fashion 3-point play to put Menlo back on top 31-23.

"One of our team mottos is that if we get to the free-throw line we'll win," Erisman said, who took 18 of the Knights' 33 free throws. "So I just knew we had to get there, and we finished."

The Gators could not closer than seven for the entirety of the second half, and Erisman scored five points late in the fourth to seal the victory for the Knights.

Division I girls

Gunn's hope for a three-peat of CCS Division I titles came to an end in a 39-38 loss to No. 2 seed North Salinas on Saturday at Independence High in San Jose.

The top-seeded Titans (10-8) got up two potential game-winning shots in the final seconds but came up short while falling.

Gunn led at the half, 19-18, but trailed by 37-31 entering the fourth quarter. The Titans got to within 39-38 on Meghan Mahoney's basket with 1:00 left. She finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds. Gunn's defense forced a miss and Sarah Longyear grabbed the rebound, allowing the Titans to set up for a last shot. The ball went inside to the 6-foot-1 Mahoney, who missed. Longyear rebounded and put up a shot of her own that also missed at the buzzer.

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