The Menlo School girls won their third straight Central Coast Section Division IV basketball title with a 47-36 triumph over top-seeded Notre Dame-Belmont at Independence High School on Saturday.
The No. 2 seeded Knights improved their overall record to 19-8 while the Tigers dropped to13-14 for the season. Both teams now advance to the CIF NorCal playoffs, with Menlo hosting a first-round game Wednesday.
"I feel like we were very consistent for the most part," said Menlo head coach John Paye, whose team avenged an earlier loss to ND-Belmont. "We had a couple of really good games and a couple of poor games, but other than that we kind of played the same. We were really able to wrap it up these last three games -- we're peaking at the right time."
Menlo sophomore point guard Sam Erisman knocked down two clutch free throws with just over one minute left in the game and the Knights made it a two-possession game at 41-34.
"I was really nervous," said Erisman, who finished with 13 points on nine made free throws. "I just took a deep breath and I knew that I needed them. I didn't do much the first half so I told myself it's probably good that I make these."
Knights junior Olivia Pellarin got to the line in the first quarter and converted on two free throws to make it a 9-9 game heading into the second quarter. Menlo sank 18 total free throws.
In the second quarter, Menlo sophomore De'Jeane Stine drove through the lane and layed it in, putting the Knights up 16-13 going into halftime. Notre Dame-Belmont scored just four points in the quarter and turned the ball over 11 times in the half, thanks to a solid Menlo defensive effort.
"Baskets were hard to come by in the game," said Paye. "I felt like the depth perception for both teams was kind of hard to shoot with the different colors of red, white and blue in the background."
Nearing the end of the third, Menlo junior McKenzie Duffner used a screen, put up a shot, and it trickled in at the buzzer and the Knights went up 29-26 going into the fourth quarter.
"I was just really hoping it would go in," said Duffner, who finished with a team-high 14 points. "We really needed to get back into scoring so we could finish out the game strong and get the enthusiasm up."
Duffner got hot after the buzzer-beater and nailed two 3-pointers in a row in the fourth quarter and Menlo took a 37-26 lead.
ND-Belmont came back and scored eight unanswered points and the Menlo lead was trimmed to 37-34. Erisman was too much for the Tigers at the free-throw line as she sank seven within the last 1:26 of the game.
Girls Division I
Despite leading throughout the game, Menlo-Atherton gave up 20 fourth-quarter points to top-seeded North Salinas and dropped a 60-53 decision in the finals on Saturday at the Leavey Center at Santa Clara University.
The No. 2-seeded Bears (24-6) grabbed a 45-40 lead after three quarters before North Salinas (24-2) exploded in the final period.
Freshman Greer Hoyem led the Bears with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Hoyem scored 20 or more points in all three CCS games. Naomi Baer scored 10 points in first half before leaving with an injury. The Vikings answered with nine 3-pointers throughout the game. M-A led for 3 1/2 quarters, but the hard- pressing North Salinas defense held the Bears to eight fourth-quarter points while putting up 20. With four minutes remaining, North Salinas took and never relinquished the lead.
Boys Division IV
Menlo School's hopes for a title diminished as the Knights fell short to Santa Cruz, 59-53, in the championship game at Independence High.
The second-seeded Knights fell to 18-8 overall, while No. 1 seeded Santa Cruz went to 23-6. Menlo, which had a four-game win streak snapped.
"I'm so happy for them," said Menlo first-year head coach Keith Larsen. "Obviously, you want to win but you play a team like that with great players, and we had a chance to win at the end. I'm incredibly pleased with them."
Despite the effort, Menlo will not advance to the CIF NorCal playoffs. For the first time since the Open Division began, two Division IV teams (Sacred Heart Prep and Half Moon Bay) played in that elite division. That earned both a return to Division IV along with Santa Cruz. Menlo, then, was the odd team out.
Menlo's fate was sealed with 18 seconds left in the game when the Cardinals' Keanon Williams found an open Oscar Mahoney for an easy layup and Santa Cruz sealed the win.
In the first quarter, Menlo senior Liam Dunn drained a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired but the Cardinals had an 17-16 lead to finish the quarter. Santa Cruz senior Kiree Hutchings had 10 points in the quarter and finished with a team-high 23 points.
Dunn was clutch again for the Knights as he tipped in a shot with 25 seconds left in the second quarter. The Menlo offense committed 12 turnovers in the first half and totaled 19 in the game.
The Cardinals had the 27-25 advantage going into halftime, but the Knights went on a 9-2 run in the third quarter and cut the deficit to 44-41 but couldn't take that momentum to take the lead. Kaijae Yee-Stephens made a 3-pointer to end the third and Santa Cruz had a 47-41 lead.
With 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Menlo had a chance to make it a two-point game. Junior guard Charlie Roth stole the ball, went up for a layup, then was charged with an offensive foul and the Cardinals took possession in a critical situation.
"This game was a good lesson for the younger guys," said Dunn, who finished with a game-high 25 points. "It shows them how hard they need to play next year to get to where they want to be. I loved all of it, all the guys and coaches and everything about it I'll never forget it."