The Pinewood girls showed a knack for playing their best in crunch time last season when they won the CIF State Division V championship.
That quality appears to have carried over to this season, as well.
Second-seeded Pinewood scored 10 straight points late in the fourth quarter to beat No. 6 Eastside Prep, 47-45, in a Central Coast Section Open Division semifinal Tuesday night at Milpitas High.
Pinewood (24-2) will face No. 5 Sacred Heart Cathedral (16-10) in Friday's title game at Santa Clara University at 6 p.m. The Irish upset No. 1 seed St. Ignatius, 53-50.
Eastside Prep will face St. Ignatius for third place on Thursday (7 p.m.) in San Francisco.
Pinewood is ranked No. 8 in the state and No. 13 in the nation by MaxPreps.com while SHC is No. 26 and 94, respectively.
The Panthers from Los Altos Hills won despite shooting an uncharacteristic 1 of 26 from behind the arc, including 0 of 18 in the first half.
"If we can win a game shooting 1 for (26) from 3, that's a joke," Pinewood coach Doc Schlepper said. "I always tell our girls if we get our shots, we're going to win. And we got our shots, couldn't hit 'em, but we found a way. Got to the basket, got some layups, made our free throws at crucial times, and when you're down six with 3:30 to go, I think our poise held up."
Freshman post Stella Kailahi had 13 points and senior guard Marissa Hing added 12 in the win, while freshman guard Kayla Tahaafe had 15 points and Arizona-bound center Destiny Graham had 12 for Eastside Prep (21-5).
Pinewood trailed 43-37 midway through the fourth quarter when it made its decisive run. Hing made two free throws, and then Chloe Eackles and Gabi Bade both made layups following Eastside Prep turnovers. Another layup by Eackles off an inbounds pass from Bade gave Pinewood a 45-43 lead with 45 seconds left.
Eastside Prep had two chances to tie after that, but Chacitty Cunningham was called for an illegal screen with 31 seconds to play, and after Hing missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Tahaafe couldn't get her shot to fall.
Hing then made two free throws with 11.5 seconds remaining to put Pinewood ahead 47-43. Brije Byers converted a drive with three seconds left to cut the deficit to two, but Eastside Prep was out of timeouts, so Pinewood allowed the clock to run out instead of inbounding the ball.
After scoring eight points in a span of five possessions early in the third quarter, Graham was held scoreless for the rest of the game as Pinewood beat Eastside Prep for the third time this season -- including twice to win the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division title.
"I think we bring the best out of one another," Eastside Prep coach Donovan Blythe said. "They're a great team. They deserve to move on. We're in the same league so I'm cheering for them."
Pinewood now has a rematch with Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Panthers outscored the visiting Fighting Irish, 26-7, in the fourth quarter to win the previous matchup this season, 61-48, on Dec. 20 at the Presentation Shootout.
"It's a great thrill," Schlepper said of reaching the final. "That was the goal after last year's state championship. The girls were put to the question, if you want to go Open (Division) you have to work really hard to get there, because the way we have to play to win is like we did in the last 3:30 of this game, where you get a stop, get a score, run our sets to perfection and get to the basket."
Scheppler hopes to have Kailahi for Friday's title game. She missed the final four minutes after she landed awkwardly after a drive to the basket and appeared to injure her left knee. Kailahi missed four games earlier this season with a right knee injury.
In Open Division consolation action, No. 8 Palo Alto (22-4) dropped a 76-60 decision to No. 4 seed and host Scotts Valley (24-4) to end its first time in the division at 0-2.
The Vikings were led by Lauren Koyama's 15 points while Alexis Harris added 12 and Maddy Atwater had 10.
"Scotts Valley shot the ball very efficiently," said Paly coach Scott Peters. "Don't have the numbers, but it must have been 60 to 70 percent from the field (22 of 26 from the foul line). They executed very well."
Palo Alto will return to Division I for the CIF NorCal playoffs and discover its seed on Sunday.
Menlo School advanced to its third consecutive CCS championship after a convincing 58-45 win over visiting Soquel in Atherton.
Second-seeded Menlo (18-8) plays top seed Notre Dame-Belmont (13-13), a 37-32 winner over The King's Academy, in Saturday's championship game. Time and place has yet to be announced.
Menlo came out strong going ahead early against Soquel and grabbed a 29-9 lead with 5:24 left in the second quarter. It was 38-28 at the half.
Menlo sophomore guard Sam Erisman paved the way with a team-high 18 points while both Hannah Paye and Mackenzie Duffner chipping in 12 points.
The Knights used a full-court press to pressure Soquel and limit Natalie Diaz, who scored 31 points in the quarterfinals. Diaz did finish with 20 and had only two by the time Menlo had gone up by 20 in the second quarter. Soquel turned the ball over 26 times.
With Tuesday's victory, Menlo also earned a berth in the CIF NorCal playoffs, which begin next week.
2015 GIRLS' CCS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
At Santa Clara University
No. 5 Sacred Heart Cathedral (16-10) vs. No. 2 Pinewood (24-2), 6 p.m.
No. 4 Scotts Valley (24-4) at No. 3 Mitty (20-6), 5:30 p.m.
Third place (Thursday)
No. 4 Eastside Prep (21-5) at No. 1 St. Ignatius (21-5), 7 p.m.
At Piedmont Hills High
No. 2 Menlo-Atherton (23-5) at No. 3 Piedmont Hills (22-3), 7:30 p.m.
No. 4 Silver Creek (15-10) vs. No. 1 North Salinas (22-2), 5:30 p.m.
(Site and time TBA)
No. 3 St. Francis (12-14) vs. No. 1 Presentation (12-13)
At Mills High
No. 6 Branham (19-7) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame-San Jose (13-12), 5:30 p.m.
No. 5 Gunderson (18-8) vs. No. 1 Hillsdale (19-8), 7:30 p.m.
(Site and time TBA)
No. 2 Menlo School (18-8) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame-Belmont (13-13)
At Del Mar High
No. 3 R.L. Stevenson (11-12) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame-Salinas (18-7), 5:30 p.m.
No. 5 Oakwood (14-6) vs. No. 1 St. Francis CCC (17-9), 7:30 p.m.