The youthful Palo Alto girls basketball team cleared a major hurdle Friday by rallying for a 56-49 win at Wilcox, a team Palo Alto coach Scott Peters considered the preseason favorite for the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division crown.
And the Vikings pulled off the win with team leader and leading scorer Carly Leong having a relative off-night. Leong finished with 11 points, 8 of those coming in the fourth quarter. Freshman point guard Annika Shah picked up the scoring slack with 21 points.
“She plays with a lot of confidence,’’ Peters said of Shah. “I’m hard on her to do some things a certain way. She likes it in the pressure situations. We’re lucky to have her.’’
With Ellie Jeffries scoring all 12 of her points early, Palo Alto (9-5, 3-0) led 22-15 after one quarter.
“When Ellie goes strong to the hole it makes our offense so much better,’’ Peters said. “She does so much for us on defense.’’
Paly shot 9 of 15 in the first quarter, but cooled way down in a 2 for 14 second quarter and Wilcox (10-6, 2-2) took a 33-30 lead at the half.
But Shah, who had scored six points in the first half before picking up her third foul, hit a 3-pointer to start the third quarter to tie the game and then converted a three-point play to put the Vikings on top. And they never trailed again.
Wilcox, however, fought back to pull even at 49-49 with two minutes left. Shah responded with two foul shots. Her floater in the lane gave Paly a 53-49 lead with 1:11 left.
Not bad for one of the three freshmen in the starting lineup.
“It’s really fun since none of our opponents know who I am,’’ she said. “I can just give it my all. This was a really big win. We were able to pull it off and stay poised when we needed to.’’
Leong, who scored her 1,000th career point in Palo Alto’s last game, didn’t score until she hit a 3 with two minutes left before halftime. She made two more 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and scored the final two points of the game from the foul line.
“A lot of our players are getting open shots because of all the attention Carly Leong is drawing,’’ Peters said. “Carly’s a scorer, it’s hard on her. She’s just got to keep working hard to get her shot and realize she’s opening things up for her teammates.’’
The Vikings host Gunn at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in a SCVAL contest.
Jessalyn Grant-Bier scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds in the Titans' 46-35 loss to visiting Cupertino.
Mikaela Cagampan made every shot she attempted, four field goals and a pair of free throws, to net 10 points on the evening. Chloe Gong added 10 points and six rebounds.
West Bay Athletic League
In the Foothill Division, Pinewood ran away from host Menlo, 94-55, Eastside Prep took care of visiting Priory, 56-41, and Sacred Heart Prep topped visiting Notre Dame-Belmont, 53-41.
In the Skyline Division, Castilleja beat host The King's Academy, 57-51.
Klara Astrom enjoyed a remarkable shooting night for Pinewood. The junior scored 31 points on 9-of-12 shooting (5-of-7 from 3-point range) to go with 11 rebounds.
Senior point guard Bri Claros flirted with a double-double, scoring 20 points to go with eight assists.
Freshman Courtni Thompson scored 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, while Trinity Copeland grabbed 10 rebounds.
Menlo led, 20-18, after one quarter. Pinewood responded with a 31-point second quarter and a 25-point third quarter to put the game away.
Ally Stuart led the Knights with 15 points. Mohini Gupta added 10.
Zion Gabriel led Eastside Prep, scoring 17 points. Kayla Mahan added 12 points, all on 3-pointers.
Eastside Prep used a 22-point second quarter to pull ahead of Priory.
Grace Battles scored 19 points and Tatum Angotti added 10 in Sacred Heart Prep's victory.
Sammy Wong and Katie Fearon each scored 15 points in Castellija's nail-biting victory. Niki Chen added 11 points.
Peninsula Athletic League
Menlo-Atherton used a big second half to rally from a 10-point first-half deficit to beat host Carlmont, 44-27, in a Peninsula Athletic League South Division contest on Friday.
Sequoia topped host Woodside, 52-26, in another PAL game.
The Bears (8-5, 2-0) were down 19-9 early in the second quarter and trailed 19-16 at halftime.
M-A scored the first 16 points of the second half to sprint ahead of the Scots. Erica Fischer hit four 3-pointers and Greer Hoyem scored eight points to spark a 25-point third quarter.