First things first: Sonora senior guard Tyler Swycinsky does not give out stock market tips nor will she make any guesses on next week’s winning lottery numbers.
“No stock picks or anything else,” said Sonora senior guard Maddie Pallante. “Tyler only makes predictions on basketball scores.”
“Just basketball predictions,” echoed Swycinsky.
But Tyler Swycinksy is very, very good at that.
On Wednesday night, Swycinsky predicted that Sonora would defeat its upcoming-opponent Oakdale by 30 points.
On Friday night at Bud Castle Gym, in its regular-season finale, Sonora defeated Oakdale 53-22 — a 31-point victory.
“I think that’s what fired us up so much tonight,” said Pallante, who scored a game-high 12 points and had four rebounds. “Tyler said we’d beat them by 30 so we made sure we did.”
“We did not want to let Oakdale beat us,” said Sonora senior forward Jade Mena. “This was our last home game and it was ‘Senior Night.’ Plus, Tyler saying in the paper (The Union Democrat, Feb. 16) that we’d beat them by 30 points meant ... we had to do that! We were counting down the points all the way to the end.”
As a salute to her eight seniors, Wildcat head coach Amy Santos made certain that five seniors started and the other three were first subs. And in the game’s final few minutes, Santos made sure all eight again received playing time.
“I was thinking that if I was a senior playing my last home game,” said Santos, “I would want to be on the court at the end. All eight of them mean so much to me — they are each such outstanding leaders to our younger players — and all eight deserved to be out there at the end.”
With 2:15 to play, Swycinsky tossed a cross-court pass to Pallante — who promptly swished a trey. Sonora then led by 27 points, 49-22.
“Three more!” came the collective yell from Sonora’s bench.
Sonora senior forward Anneka Pisula scored on an offensive-board putback with 1:37 left and the lead was 29.
“One more, Tyler!” was the roar from Sonora’s bench.
“Yes,” said Swycinksy with a smile. “I could hear my teammates while I was out on the court. They didn’t want me to look like an idiot — that was the bottom line. And I didn’t want to look like one either.”
With 11 seconds left, Sonora senior guard Elise Amend was in the backcourt and spotted Pisula sprinting forward.
“Yep,” said Amend, “we were going for it, I knew I had to push that ball up and I saw Anneka.”
Bingo! Amend connected with Pisula on the dead run — then Pisula banked home a five-footer.
“I didn’t know why everybody was yelling so much when I was shooting that ball,” said Pisula, who grabbed a game-high eight rebounds and scored seven points. “But after I hit that shot, then I figured it out.”
With the win, Sonora upped its overall record to 14-11 (6-8 Valley Oak League) and improved its postseason positioning. Sonora is ranked No. 12 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships and will travel on Tuesday to face No. 5 Ripon. Oakdale, a larger Division III school, finished 4-22 (0-14 VOL).
On Friday night, Sonora came out all guns blazing.
Oakdale was immediately bombarded with Sonora’s full-court take-no-prisoners blitzkrieg press. Sonora’s starters looked like five piranhas chasing guppies.
“We know we have a strong defense and we just decided that we’d stop them right away,” said Mena.
Oakdale’s first shot attempt was mercilessly swatted away by Mena.
Not in my gym!
Midway through that first quarter, Mena again skied, blocked an Oakdale shot and grabbed the ball in mid-air. Sonora then worked its offense with precision, Pallante had an open look from 9-feet away and she drained it.
“All night,” said Swycinsky, “we were running our offensive plays really well and everyone seemed to be making their shots.”
Up 6-0, Amend, from out of bounds, looked right then tossed left to Pisula. After Amend jumped back in bounds, Pisula made a quick feed to Amend and set a forceful pick. Thus Amend had a wide-open 17-foot baseline shot — and she swished it.
At the 1:20 mark, Wildcat senior forward Marie Marinovich entered this contest and got her first rebound in less than five seconds. And she wasn’t done cleaning glass. The hustling Marinovich grabbed six boards total.
Senior guard Jenni Constable closed out the first quarter with a standout play. With just 10 seconds left and Oakdale on the attack, Constable made a superb that-ball-belongs-to-us steal, drove upcourt and hit a cutting Swycinsky in perfect stride. Swycinsky canned the bunny, the buzzer went off and Sonora led 10-2.
Sonora had four first-quarter steals. But more than that, Oakdale, when its pockets weren’t being picked, still was taking 15-to-20 seconds before getting into its offense. Most often, Oakdale, once upcourt, had little time left to get a decent shot.
Which was precisely the game plan designed by Santos.
“We had told our girls, ‘Make them uncomfortable with the ball,’ ” explained Santos. “We had scouted them well and knew that only one of their girls (guard Bianca Lara) really wanted the ball. They’ll even keep passing backwards to get it to her. So we talked a lot about that with our girls while watching film. We had said, ‘Keep pushing them, never let them get comfortable with the ball’ — and our girls delivered. They executed the game plan perfectly.”
With 4:35 left in the half, and Wildcat freshman guard Bailey Henington standing out of bounds, senior guard Sammi Knowles darted quickly behind the arc. Standing 22-feet away, Knowles took Henington’s no-look feed, drilled a trey and Sonora led 20-3.
Sonora led 27-5 at halftime and 41-16 after three quarters.
“Our girls were emotional for ‘Senior Night,’ but it was a good emotion,” said Santos. “They simply wanted to come out and play well. We had a great, large crowd and we had the band — which was fantastic.”
“Winning this game meant a lot to us,” said Amend, who scored four points. “This was a big night and everybody on our team contributed.”
For Sonora, junior guard Jessie Fong scored seven points, junior guard Bianca Murillo and junior forward Cassidy Knowles each grabbed three rebounds, junior forward Bryanna Owens had a steal and two rebounds, and junior guard Taylor Howell had two points and two boards.
Mena grabbed seven rebounds and scored four points, Constable had two points, two boards and two steals, junior guard Stephanie Chung had two steals and Henington scored five points.
Swycinsky had six points, five boards and one postgame prediction.
“We’re gonna go to the Final Four,” she said with a grin.
After Swycinsky’s Friday-night guarantee, why would anyone doubt her?