Before the Pinewood girls hit the road to face one of the biggest challenges in the history of the school's basketball program, coach Doc Scheppler had some thoughts on facing the nation's No. 1-ranked team, unbeaten St. Mary's of Stockton.
"Believe it or not, Pinewood scares people in how we play, how we shoot, how we don't quit, how we execute game plans," Scheppler remarked.
While most probably believed the No. 4-seeded Panthers had no shot against No. 1 St. Mary's (28-0), Scheppler's team proved otherwise.
The Panthers utilized their deadly three-point shooting, making 16 treys and rallying from a 10-point deficit, to shoot down St. Mary's, 72-69, in an Open Division regional semifinal of the CIF State Basketball Championships at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.
Scheppler acknowledged that the triumph was the biggest of his career, this from a man who has won six state titles.
"When you look at us, we're not gonna look great at airports," Scheppler said. "But, it's about skill. It's about shooting. It's about driving. It's about passing. It's about handling the ball. And I know that our skill level is better than any team around."
Pinewood (24-5) advances to play No. 2 Miramonte (31-0) in the NorCal title game on Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento at 6 p.m. The teams met on Feb. 20 with Miramonte winning easily, 73-57.
Junior Erin Poindexter-McHan and freshman Hannah Jump led the 3-point parade as both drained six apiece while tallying 22 points each. For Poindexter-McHan, it was a career high.
While St. Mary's was taller, quicker and had more depth, Pinewood stuck to its game plan with its primary rotation of six players. Poindexter-McHan, however, suffered a sprained ankle with under 4:00 left, and had to leave the game and senior Chloe Eackles fouled out with under 2:00 remaining.
Junior Akayla Hackson chipped in with 12 points and freshman Klara Astrom contributed 10. Each had a pair of 3-pointers.
After trailing at the half, 43-37, Pinewood went on a 30-12 run to take a 69-61 lead and withstood a last-minute rally by the Rams.
Pinewood is the only Division V team remaining in the Open Division playoffs.
Division I boys
While the Pinewood girls made the biggest news of the night, the Menlo-Athertons boys weren't far behind.
The No. 5-seeded Bears will play in their first NorCal title game since 1989 following a 50-46 upending of top-seeded Bellarmine (20-9) in a regional semifinal Tuesday night in San Jose.
The Bears (28-4) will face No. 7 Berkeley (23-8), a 64-52 winner over No. 3 Monte Vista of Danville, in the NorCal finals on Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento at 4 p.m.
M-A defeated Berkeley, 58-54, on Dec. 30 to win the Tim Cole Tournament.
M-A, which lost to Bellarmine (58-57) in a nonleague game in the preseason, grabbed a 24-18 halftime lead and extended that to 38-29 after three periods as senior Lucas Fioretti drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Junior Eric Norton sank one of two free throws with 12.1 seconds to play, giving Bellarmine a shot to tie the game with a trey. The shot missed and M-A's Blake Henry grabbed the rebound and was fouled, making the first free throw to cap the big victory.
The 6-foot-6 Henry used his height to good advantage and finished with 15 points plus eight rebounds. Kai Winterling added his second straight 14-point effort with Norton chipping in 10. M-A made 10 of 13 foul shots in the final quarter to hold off the Bells.
Division I girls
Fourth-seeded Menlo-Atherton (27-5) saw its season come to an end in a 74-51 loss to top-seeded St. Francis of Sacramento (28-5) in a NorCal semifinal in the Capitol city.
The Bears struggled early to break the Troubadours' press while St. Francis scored 28 in the paint and from the arc. Things improved slightly for the Bears in the second quarter as freshman Mele Kailahi scored five and the Bears played tough defense, but Janae Fairbrook hit three of her six 3-pointers and St. Francis lead by 35 at the half.
The Bears mounted a comeback in the second half with sophomore Carly McLanahan hitting all 13 of her points and Kailahi scoring another 10 while finishing with 18, but it was too little, too late for the Bears, who lose only four senior reserves while returning their entire starting lineup.
Division IV girls
Sacred Heart Prep wrapped up its fine 21-7 season with a 68-32 loss to host and top-seeded Cardinal Newman (29-5) in Santa Rosa on Tuesday night.
The Gators fell behind from the outset and trailed by 27-15 at halftime. Cardinal Newman then exploded for 28 points in the third period to put the game out of reach.
Sophomore Tatum Angotti was the only SHP player in double figures with 11. Seniors Ma'ata Makoni, Riley Hemm, Juliana Clark, Chandi Ingram and Tara Ritchey all concluded their prep careers.
Division V girls
Top-seeded Eastside Prep advanced to its second straight NorCal title game following a 62-44 semifinal victory over No. 4 Urban School (24-9) of San Francisco on Tuesday night in East Palo Alto.
Sophomore Kayla Tahaafe led Eastside Prep with 25 points with freshman Kayla Mahan and sophomore Alayah Bell adding 10 each. Freshman Zion Gabriel and sophomore Ra'Anna Bey each contributed nine points to the victory.
The Panthers (18-11) will face No. 2 seed St. Joseph Notre Dame (26-8), a 54-48 winner over No. 3 Priory (19-7), in the regional final of the CIF State Basketball Championships on Saturday at American Canyon High at 10 a.m.
Priory wrapped up its best-ever season as freshman post Ila Lane tossed in 26 points. The Panthers have a bright future with its roster comprised of only freshmen and sophomores.