The Menlo-Atherton girls control their destiny when it comes to winning the PAL South Division basketball title this season. The Bears put themselves in that position after posting a 44-32 victory over host Hillsdale on Wednesday night.
The Bears improved to 8-1 (16-5 overall) and took over sole possession of first place while the Knights dropped to 7-2 (14-7 overall) and into second place. M-A has now won six in a row and 10 out of its past 11 games.
"If you're playing team basketball, you'll win some games," said Menlo-Atherton head coach Markisha Coleman. "We're pretty deep at every spot. When they come out, they fight and play hard.You have 12 girls that are committed and play hard for each other."
With 10 seconds left in the first quarter, senior Naomi Baer scored on a put-back shot under the basket and made it a 13-10 lead for the Bears to end the first.
The M-A defense stepped up in the second quarter, allowing only two field goals and five total points.
M-A sophomore Ilana Baer made a layup with 25 seconds left in the half, putting her team up 19-15 going into halftime. Baer finished with a team-high 12 points.
Menlo-Atherton committed 10 turnovers in the first half before settling down in the second half, turning it over just four times.
"At halftime I told them they need to rebound and take care of the basketball," said Coleman, who played at Eastside Prep before playing at Stanford. "That was our main focus in the second half, to take care of the ball. This was a big game for both teams so we just settled down and started playing M-A basketball."
In beginning of the third quarter, Baer went for a loose ball but tripped and twisted her ankle. She came back into the game later in the quarter. With two minutes left, Naomi Baer sank one of two free throws to give her team a 30-25 edge going into the fourth.
Hillsdale came out in the fourth quarter ice cold from the field and went on a four-minute scoring drought. The Knights managed only seven points on two converted field goals in the quarter.
With just over two minutes left in the game, M-A sophomore Ofa Sili made back-to-back layups and the Bears took a safe 40-27 lead.
"This was a really big game for us," said Sili, who had recovered from an injury three games ago. "Although I was tired and my knee was hurting, I knew I couldn't give up. I kept trying to put up every shot I could and luckily they went in."
Ilana Baer looked recovered from her injury in the fourth quarter and cashed in seven points in the period. Sili and Baer combined for 22 total points.
"It was a big game for both teams," said Coleman. "I think both teams came out and played hard all 32 minutes but we're definitely glad we were on the winning side."
The Bears won despite missing 18 free throws (10 of 28).
M-A has three division games remaining. The Bears host Sequoia (2-6) on Friday at 6:15 p.m. before hosting Burlingame (6-3) on Tuesday in likely their final hurdle between them and the title.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto remained in first place by a game following a tough 56-44 victory over host Saratoga. The Vikings improved to 8-0 in league and 18-2 overall while continuing their best start in program history.
"This was one of the most physical games in the key that we have played this year," said Paly coach Scott Peters. "It was hard-fought throughout; the game was won in the trenches. Positioning was tightly contested close to the basket. Coco Lovely, Skylar Burris, and Julie Chandler stood out in defending the low post area."
Lovely tallied 17 points with sophomore Lauren Koyama leading the way with 20. Paly limited Saratoga to just four points in the second quarter while taking a 33-19 halftime lead.
"It was Coco Lovely's best game as a Viking," said Peters. "She was our leader on both ends of the floor. She was a tough interior defender and a emotional leader for the defense. The offense went through her in the high post against the Saratoga zone. Besides scoring 17, she got the offense going with her drives and passing."
Burris scored five points and was another force on the interior, instrumental in boxing out and controlling the boards. Koyama, meanwhile, knocked down five 3-pointers. Alexis Harris finished with eight points, but was limited due to foul trouble.
"Overall, a tough road victory where our team played very hard and fought a great battle," said Peters.
Palo Alto leads Mountain View (7-1, 16-4), which defeated Wilcox by 52-41. The top two teams will square off on Feb. 14 on the Spartans' court.
Elsewhere in the De Anza Division, Gunn was held to 10 points in the second half and dropped a 43-28 decision to visiting Los Gatos (4-3, 13-6). The Titans fell to 3-5 in league (6-9 overall).
In a battle between a pair of 5-3 teams in the PAL South Division, Menlo-Atherton moved into sole possession of fourth place with a 49-37 win over visiting Hillsdale. M-A moved to 6-3 in league (12-9 overall) while Hillsdale dropped to 5-4 and 14-7.
Hillsdale hit three treys in the first quarter and held a one-point lead. M-A tightened its defense and allowed only three more treys the rest of the game while driving hard to the basket for many of its points. M-A center Ryan Cole went to work in the second quarter, scoring seven to help his team to a five-point lead.
Danny LaPorte's five points in the decisive third quarter led to a 12-point lead going into the final period, and M-A played even with Hillsdale to post the victory. Cole led the Bears with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He also grabbed four rebounds. Lucas Fioretti scored in every quarter and added nine points for the Bears.
With Jesus Ortega scoring four goals, Menlo-Atherton took over first place in the PAL Bay Division soccer race with a 7-0 romp over visiting Half Moon Bay on Wednesday. The Bears (7-2, 10-3) moved ahead of Burlingame (6-1-2), which was tied by Carlmont, 2-2.
M-A has 21 points and Burlingame has 20, with Sequoia (6-2-1) right behind with 19. Mario Rodriguez and Efrain Garcia also scored for the Bears, with one goal unaccounted for. The Bears have won five straight and seven of their past eight.
In the West Bay Athletic League, Menlo School dropped a 3-1 decision to host Harker and all but lost any hope of catching first-place Sacred Heart Prep. The setback also puts the Knights' Central Coast Section playoff hopes in jeopardy.
Menlo (5-2-1, 7-5-2 overall) couldn't match the Eagles intensity in the opening minutes as Harker sought to defend its home field on Senior Day. As the half went on, Menlo came into the game, creating a few half chances but never troubling the Harker goalie.
Menlo trimmed the deficit with 10 minutes to play when junior forward Will Chisholm picked up a loose ball in midfield and ran past the Harker defense. The Knights pushed for another goal but were unable to find the back of the net.
In Atherton, Sacred Heart Prep improved its lead over the WBAL field by handing visiting Eastside Prep a 3-0 defeat. The Gators (7-0-1, 11-1-3) improved their unbeaten streak to 10 straight and took a big step toward clinching a seventh straight league crown.
Matthew MacFarquhar scored the eventual winning goal in the first half off an assist from Philip Petrakian, who made it 2-0 later in the half following an assist from Eric Hausken. After intermission, Fernando Monteon scored an unassisted goal to wrap up the victory.
The Gators are now 68-2-6 in the WBAL since 2010.
Sacred Heart Prep has four matches remaining, the most difficult likely being against host King's Academy on Feb. 18. The Knights handed the Gators their only loss during a 13-1 league season last year.
In Sunnyvale, Priory dropped a 2-0 decision to host King's Academy.