Brianna Claros says she's at her best when she stops using her brain. If that's the case, she was clueless in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of her game-high 21 points to help the Pinewood girls' basketball team pull away from Valley Christian-San Jose, 64-51, in the championship game of the Jim Soden tournament at Terra Nova High in Pacifica on Wednesday night.
“I lost myself in the game,” said the 5-3 junior guard who rattled home five 3-pointers in a game that was closer than the score indicated. “I didn't think about it. I was in the moment.”
Relying on instincts, Claros refused to limit herself to a sharpshooting contest. Despite being the shortest player on the court, she never hesitated to drive against players as much as a full foot taller. She even managed four rebounds, putting her on even ground with her taller teammates.
“We've played in San Diego, we played Bishop O'Dowd and Valley Christian, a wide variety of athleticism and physicality,” Claros said. “It's the kind of challenge we love.”
The Warriors were a great opponent for Pinewood. Not only taller all the way around but more physical than most teams the Panthers (7-2) have played. Nothing came easy for Pinewood.
Valley Christian (7-3) had a 32-23 rebounding edge for the game, though it was much more pronounced in the first half, with the Warriors dominating the boards to the tune of 22-9.
“We want to be tested,” Panthers coach Doc Scheppler said. “I want to see how we respond in a higher intensity environment. It was a great tournament for us. We played a lot of people and we need productive minutes from everybody.”
Pinewood weathered a couple of anxious moments, when both senior guard Mikaela Topper and sophomore forward Klara Astrom came up with tender ankles in the first half.
They were both able to return, though they'll likely be taking it easy until the Panthers regroup after the holiday weekend for the St. Francis tournament that begins Wednesday.
Pinewood made 13 3-pointers and the Warriors added seven. Hannah Jump connected on four 3-pointers and then scored the game's final points on a beautiful drive to the basket.
Astrom added 11 points on a pair of 3-pointers and a 3-of-3 effort from the foul line, that included the exclamation point to a traditional three-point play.
Priory vs. Jefferson
Senior Samantha McCabe and junior Tatiana Reese know all about the competitive nature of the West Bay Athletic League.
Handing St. Francis of the WCAL its first loss of the season is one thing. Facing that caliber of team every night is another.
That's the reason Panthers coach Buck Matthews has Priory playing such a tough schedule.
"Beating St. Francis was huge for us," Matthews said after the Panthers beat Jefferson, 68-38, to open the Woodside Holiday tournament Wednesday. "This is a young team and I need to get them to understand you have to bring it every single night."
McCabe and Reese are the only upperclassmen playing for Priory, another reason for the Panthers to be playing Brea Olinda, the team that beat St. Francis in the state Division I title game and the host Irish in the Sacred Heart Shootout following the Christmas break.
"The CCS is great from Division I to V," Matthews said. "From Pinewood to Eastside to Menlo-Atherton to Mitty. It's exciting."
Priory's first four league games are against Menlo, a NorCal regional finalist, Sacred Heart Prep, a NorCal regional semifinalist, Eastside, the defending state Division V champion, and Pinewood, an Open Division regional finalist.
Matthews is excited about his team's potential, as young as it is. Reese, who netted 19 points against the Grizzlies, is one of the top players in the area at any position and sophomore Ila Lane, who scored 17 to go with 15 rebounds, knows her way around the basket.
Add sharpshooters Dominique Robson, Lala Niu and Gabby Ruiz and you have the makings of a contender.
"We're just trying to put it all together," Matthews said.
M-A vs. Cupertino
Greer Hoyem scored 22 points and Menlo-Atherton extended its winning streak to six games, beating visiting Cupertino, 51-37, in a nonleague game Wednesday night.
The Bears (6-1) capitalized early, using their height advantage by getting the ball low. Hoyem scored 14 of the team’s 19 first-quarter points.
Cupertino (7-2) got back into the contest, utilizing a press that forced M-A into turnovers. The Pioneers drew within 29-25 by halftime.
With Hoyem on the bench opening the second half due to foul trouble, senior forward Ofa Sili stepped up and scored six of her eight points to help spark a 14-4 Bears run.
Ilana Baer added 10 points, while the defensive play of Carly McLanahan and Megan Sparrow helped keep Cupertino at bay.
The Bears play in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament against Kennedy-Sacramento nezt Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Menlo School.