The chances of these two teams meeting in a CCS championship game was not much of an issue, until now.
Thanks to increased enrollments at both schools, the Vikings and Titans were elevated into Division I for the postseason and away from the likes of Presentation, Mitty and any other Catholic school that has ruined the hopes of Paly and Gunn over the years.
As the season progressed and victories by each team began to pile up, it finally did become obvious that the Vikings and Titans not only would qualify for the postseason but quite likely earn high seeds and — hold your breath — somehow wind up playing each other in the CCS championship game.
Could it be? Was it possible? Yes, it is.
For the first time since 1977, when 14 league champions were brought together for the first girls' CCS playoffs, No. 1-seeded Palo Alto (21-4) and No. 3-seeded Gunn (19-5) will face each other in the section finals. They'll meet Saturday at Santa Clara University at 6 p.m., with both teams also earning berths in the CIF NorCal playoffs that begin Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Gunn reached the 2009 CCS Division II finals, but lost to Mitty and eventually finished with a 29-3 record, best in school history. The current Titans, however, are in a better position to bring home the first section girls' title in school history.
Palo Alto, meanwhile, will be playing in its first CCS final. Coach Scott Peters guided his 2006 squad to a 25-5 record, but that squad fell in the semifinals — to Mitty.
"I think it is a great honor for our girls to get a chance to play for the CCS championship," Peters said. "I think the game with Gunn will be another war; should be very fun."
Palo Alto and Gunn advanced out of semifinal games Wednesday night at Christopher High in Gilroy.
The Vikings had the early game and struggled offensively — trailing at the half, 11-9, before stepping up its offense and clamping down its defense to beat No. 5 North Salinas, 33-25.
"We stuck with our game plan in the second half, of pressuring their ball-handlers, which helped us get some steals and easy shots," said Peters. "Our girls play very hard, with a lot of passion and effort. It may not be pretty to watch, but our girls are going to make you work for every inch of the court."
The Vikings played fullcourt, man-to-man defense that helped hold North Salinas's top scorer to just eight points.
"Lindsay Black, Shamelia Clay and Stephanie Allen took turns guarding her throughout the night," Peters explained. "This disrupted their offense."
Both teams struggled offensively and were plagued by turnovers — the teams combined for more than 60 — but the Vikings came up with the key stops when needed. Junior Emilee Osagiede led the way with 15 points while sophomore center Josie Butler grabbed 10 rebounds and swatted away numerous shots to further disrupt the North Salinas offense.
In the nightcap, Titans rallied for an exciting 43-40 victory over No. 2 Gilroy (22-2). Julia Maggioncalda led Gunn with 13 points while fellow junior Cat Perez added 12.
The Titans trailed 40-36 with just over a minute remaining Nora Shevick hit a three-pointer with 1:12 left for a 40-39 game and then Gunn stopped Gilroy on back-to-back possession, with Maggioncalda grabbing the rebound each time and getting fouled. She made two with 43 seconds left to give Gunn the lead and hit two more with eight seconds remaining for the final margin of victory.
"Nora's shot was huge," said Gunn coach Sarah Stapp. "If we don't convert there, it could be all over."
Following Maggioncalda's four free throws, Gilroy had one more possession in front of its hometown fans, but was unable to get off a good shot. Gunn's Emily Redfield got the rebound with a second remaining to end the final threat.
"The final minute was like a blur," said Stapp. "We did everything right and I couldn't be more proud of my girls."
Gunn's defensive effort made the difference with all the Titans contributing — Shevick, Maggioncalda, Redfield, Perez, Claire Klausner, Zoe Zwerling and Sarah Klem.
"As big as Shevick's shot was," said Stapp, "her defense was just as important. She was huge after Zwerling fouled out."
Zwerling was the victim of two quick referee whistles seconds apart that her sitting on the bench for the final seven minutes.
CCS Division V
As expected, No. 1-seeded Pinewood (23-5) and No. 2 Eastside Prep (21-7) advanced to the CCS finals. They'll meet at Santa Clara University on Saturday at 10 a.m. This will be their fourth meeting this season, with Pinewood holding a 2-1 edge.
Pinewood cruised to a 75-26 victory over No. 4 St. Francis-CCC (18-11) as Hailie Eackles poured in 26 points and Casey Cairo nailed six 3-pointers and finished with 20. The Panthers rolled to a 55-16 halftime lead and were never threatened.
Eastside Prep used its pressure defense to defeat No. 3 Castilleja (13-15) and avenge last season's semifinal loss to the Gators. Ahjalee Harvey scored 25 points and fellow senior Takara Burse added 22 while the Panthers limited Castilleja senior scoring leader Natasha von Kaeppler to just 13 points.
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