The Pinewood girls' basketball team has won plenty of big games in recent years, but that doesn't mean it's immune to pressure.
The second-seeded Panthers struggled Friday night in the high stakes and the big-time atmosphere of the Central Coast Section Open Division title game at Santa Clara University, allowing No. 5 Sacred Heart Cathedral to come away with a 48-46 win.
Going for its first CCS Open Division championship, Pinewood (24-3) scored just four points in the final seven minutes and allowed the Fightin' Irish (17-10) to end the game on a 7-1 run. Iimar'I Thomas (22 points, 10 rebounds) made two free throws with 15.9 seconds left to put Sacred Heart Cathedral in front 47-46, and the Panthers turned the ball over with five seconds remaining on their final possession.
"We were a little flustered with the ball in our hands," Pinewood coach Doc Shlepper said. "Big moment, big game, big court -- the pressure got to us."
The defending CIF State Division V champions outscored the visiting Fightin' Irish 26-7 in the fourth quarter to win the previous matchup this season, 61-48 on Dec. 20, but this time it was Sacred Heart Cathedral that made the big plays down the stretch.
"I think a hundred people, just the pressure, the fact that score was so close (tonight) and the last time we beat them by like 20, I think it just got to people," Pinewood senior point guard Marissa Hing said. "I think we got a little too cocky, thought we were unbeatable. I think we have to realize that we're going into the NorCal Open (next). We're going to play a lot of really tough teams, so we have to come out and play hard 100 percent of the time instead of 50 percent of the time like we usually do."
Hing, who is headed to UC San Diego, had 12 points and four steals and junior forward Chloe Eackles had nine rebounds for Pinewood.
Freshman post Stella Kailahi made all four of her field goal attempts but only played 13 minutes after injuring her knee in the semifinal win over Eastside Prep and missing two days of practice. Buffalo-bound senior Gabi Bade shot 2 of 10 and committed five turnovers.
A four-point play by Bade helped Pinewood take a 30-22 halftime lead. After both teams scored on their first possessions of the second half to make it 32-24, the Fightin' Irish turned up the pressure and took advantage of their size in the post.
The combination of a full-court press and second-chance opportunities helped Sacred Heart Cathedral run off 12 straight points to lead 36-32 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
Pinewood countered with eight straight points to regain the lead, and Hing's 3-pointer gave the Panthers a 45-41 lead midway through the fourth quarter. But that would be Pinewood's last field goal.
Alyssa Hickson made 1 of 2 from the line with 1:40 remaining to give the Panthers their final lead at 46-45, but after a series of misses on both ends, Thomas knocked down the winning free throws with 15.9 seconds left.
Bade then missed a potential go-ahead 3 with 5.1 seconds left, and after the ball went out of bounds off of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Pinewood's inbounds pass was intercepted underneath the basket. After the steal, Kaimani Perez made 1 of 2 free throws and Saupuni Marvega rebounded the miss to allow the Fightin' Irish to run out the clock.
Arizona-bound senior center A'shanti Coleman had seven points and five rebounds for Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Next up for Pinewood is likely the NorCal Open Division.
"They'll just tell us where they want us to go," Schlepper said. "We'll probably be in the NorCal Open and we'll probably open up on the road next Friday. (We'll) get a little bit better and learn from this."
Boys Open Division
Despite getting a game-high 29 points from senior Korbin Koch, Sacred Heart Prep came up short in a 69-65 loss to host Mitty in the third-place game on Friday night in San Jose. Connor Moses hit six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points for the Gators (23-4), who led by 15-9 after one period. Mitty (17-10) rallied with 24 points in the second quarter for a 33-27 halftime lead.
Sacred Heart Prep next will play in the CIF NorCal playoffs, most likely in Division IV.
Boys Division V
After disposing of top-seeded Pinewood in the semifinals, Priory had a clear shot at its first-ever section title on Friday. The No. 4-seeded Panthers didn't waste that opportunity and defeated No. 6 R.L. Stevenson, 52-45, to make program history at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.
Priory came into the game 0-4 in title games since reaching its first section finale in 2002. The fifth time was the charm as the Panthers rallied from a 25-23 halftime deficit with a 16-9 advantage in the third quarter. The victory earned Priory (17-9) a home game for the CIF NorCal playoffs, which begin this week.
Priory senior guard Chris Perez drained a trio of 3-pointers in a third-period to spark the comeback against the Pirates (19-8). He finished with 18 points to share the scoring lead with junior teammate Scott Harris, who tallied 67 points in three playoff games.