Coco Layton made one of two free throws with 4.5 seconds left to break a tie and give Menlo School a 46-45 victory over Pinewood in a West Bay Athletic League girls basketball opener Saturday.
Pinewood called timeout with 3.2 seconds left and tried to set up a game-winning shot. Point guard Annika Decker took the inbounds pass, dribbled down court and passed to Valentina Saric on the right wing. Saric cast off a 3-point attempt that hit the front rim, bounced straight up and came down through the net.
Pinewood players broke into celebration only to be quickly curtailed when the officials waved off the basket, ruling that it left Saric’s hand after time expired.
Then it was Menlo’s turn to celebrate.
Menlo ended Pinewood's 66-game regular-season WBAL winning streak, dating to a Feb. 5, 2013 loss to Eastside Prep.
Menlo (11-1, 1-0) won a state Division II championship a year ago, but this win was a significant achievement for the program. For all its success last season the Knights were blown out twice -- 75-36 and 74-47 -- by a Pinewood team that went on to win the Northern California Open Division championship.
“It shows how much we’ve improved, how much we’ve grown,’’ Layton said. “With all our players back from last year we’ve solidified and play well together. We’ve started working real hard on defense.’’
Defense was most definitely a key to the win. Pinewood (10-1, 0-1) went into the game averaging 73.3 points per game, so Menlo held the Panthers nearly 30 points under their average. They were 5 of 22 from 3-point range.
“Our defensive pressure was real good and we won the 50-50 balls,’’ Menlo coach John Paye said. “That was the difference ‘’
A basket by Courtni Thompson at the end of the third quarter gave Pinewood a 33-32 lead and then the Panthers scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to go up by eight at 40-32.
A 3-pointer by Avery Lee ignited an eight-point Menlo run as the Knights came back to draw even, 40-40.
“The 3 Avery hit was huge,’’ Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler said. “Cut it to five and gave them hope.’’
Maia Garcia scored for Pinewood off a pass from Una Jovanovic and then Sharon Nejad tied it for Menlo off a pass from Layton with 59 seconds left.
Annika Decker’s 3-pointer put Pinewood ahead until Menlo countered with a 3 by Layton that tied it.
Then it was Layton stepping to the line with a chance to give her team the win.
“I took a deep breath and tried to clear my mind,’’ she said. “I tried not to think about the pressure, just tried to do everything the same that I do in practice.’’
Nejad picked up three fouls in the first two minutes of the game. But Paye kept subbing her in on offense and taking her out on defense the rest of the first half, and Nejad ended up with game-highs 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Decker led Pinewood with 16 points.
“Annika played brilliantly,’’ Scheppler said. “The other girls need to join her. The better team won. We showed a lack of composure, a lack of confidence. But that was a great game for us to learn from. It’s not the end of the world. The ceiling is real high for this team.’’