Pinewood (27-5) also can become the first Division V team in state history to win five state crowns with a victory over St. Bernard (24-10), which will be seeking its fourth state title — the first in Division V — when the teams tip off at 3:30 p.m.
"I'd rather have one than the other," said Pinewood coach Doc Scheppler, when asked which achievement he'd prize most.
A fifth state title, of course, is Pinewood's main goal. In order to accomplish that, the Panthers will have to break the three-point record. Pinewood tied its own mark with eight treys in a 41-36 victory over St. Joseph-Notre Dame of Alameda last Saturday in the CIF NorCal finals at Folsom High.
Pinewood made only eight of 38 three-pointers last weekend and finished just 13 of 51 for the field. Yet, the Panthers still found a way to win. That will be the task on Friday once again against a St. Bernard team with five players standing 6 feet or taller.
"They pose some problems," Scheppler said of the Vikings, who featured 6-foot-3 senior Kacy Swain, headed for UCLA, and 6-2 freshman Lajahna Drummer, who leads the team with averages of 17.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. Swain is second with 11.3 ppg and 10.3 rebounds. "They pound the offensive boards. I'm hoping we can minimize the damage inside."
Scheppler said his team hasn't faced this much height since the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona in December. Pinewood went 3-1 that weekend.
Along with St. Bernard's height and length, the Vikings play an extended zone, which will put a premium on Pinewood's three-point shooting if the Panthers are unable to penetrate.
"We definitely have to shoot better than the other day," Scheppler said of his team's 25 percent effort against St. Joseph. "We do not have to shoot the lights out, just shoot OK and hold down the fort. They are not a great-shooting team; we are."
Scheppler sees Friday's championship game as a matchup between his team's veteran experience and perimeter game against St. Bernard's youth and inside presence.
"They are freshman-laden and we are senior-laden," Scheppler said. "I'm hoping the two-year difference in age will make a difference."
Also in Pinewood's favor, perhaps, is the fact the Panthers are the defending Division V state champions while St. Bernard last won a Division IV state crown in 1998.
Pinewood beat St. Anthony of Long Beach, 62-44, in last year's state final and Scheppler sees similarities between St. Anthony and St. Bernard.
"They're similar in size," Scheppler said. "We brought them out of their zone."
Pinewood, however, is without a key player from last season's team — Jenna McLoughlin, the team's tallest player at 5-10. She missed much of this season after undergoing a second ACL operation.
"Not having her in the lineup against this particular team makes a difference," Scheppler said. "If they (St. Bernard) start playing volleyball out there, we're in trouble."
Pinewood will have to pressure fullcourt, force turnovers, shoot well from the perimeter and be able to play its game — all the while trying to limit second and third shots by St. Bernard..
"We have to create some opportunities for ourselves," Scheppler said. "We'll definitely have to find a way to penetrate that zone."
Pinewood senior Hailie Eackles will need to be at her best on Friday. She scored 16 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the NorCal final, but made only four of 22 shots from the field for 18 percent. She'll take a 23.5 scoring average and 2,089 career points into the state finale.
Eackles still came through in the clutch with three free throws in the final moments to hold off St. Joseph, which trailed by 34-32 before Kelsey Morehead hit a big three-pointer for a 37-32 lead.
Eackles made two free throws for a 39-32 lead with 47 seconds to play, made another and then Morehead sank the final free throw. Senior Caitlin Ciardella made two big treys in the second half and played well to keep the Panthers on top.
"Our shot selection wasn't very good and we turned it over too much against their zone," Scheppler said of the St. Joseph game. "It never was a smooth-flowing game, as far as offensive execution. But, we won."
The key to the game, Scheppler said, was Pinewood holding its own on the boards (both teams had 38 rebounds) and a solid defensive effort that held St. Joseph's 6-foot-4 Carmen Lockhart to 10 points and a trio of high-scoring guards to a combined 12 points.
"They (St. Joseph) did their damage on the offensive boards and putbacks," explained Scheppler. "I was really pleased with our defensive effort. We forced 19 turnovers, that was crucial.
"Now, we're looking to have a great game in the state finals. I know we're ready to play. They've worked hard all year for this. They know how to play in big games, and they can do great things in big games."
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