The Calaveras Redskin girls’ varsity basketball team only allowed the Sonora Wildcats one basket during overtime to hold on for a 51-46 preseason win at home Tuesday night.
With around four minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Redskins leading 40-34, Wildcat senior Jessie Fong came up with two steals on back-to-back Calaveras possessions that helped Sonora close the gap to within two points.
“Jessie’s one of our best defenders and she did a great job tonight,” said Sonora head coach Amy Santos. “She’s got a great nose for the ball and got those key steals when we needed them.”
About two minutes later, Wildcat senior Bryanna Owens dished the ball inside to Shea Stead who put it in with a layup to tie the game 40-40.
Sonora kept the pressure on the Redskins in the final minutes but Calaveras remained ahead 44-41 with only 4.6 seconds left, which meant one thing for the Wildcats — get the ball to sophomore point guard Bailey Henington.
“We wanted the ball in her hands and she knew the situation,” said Santos. “She knew what to do and she did it.”
Henington sprinted up court off the inbound pass and put up a prayer from well beyond the top of the key that banked in as the buzzer sounded.
“Anytime she shoots from wherever it has a chance to go in and when I saw it go up I thought, ‘That looks pretty darn good,” chuckled Redskin head coach Mike Lewis.
However, the Wildcats were unable capitalize off the momentum from the amazing shot.
Sonora was held to only two points in the four minutes of extra play thanks to the stingy Calaveras defense.
Redskin junior Kelly Airola grabbed five defensive rebounds in overtime while Brianna McGinness and Taylor Martinez combined for seven points to seal the victory.
“We knew we had to come out and play smart defense because defense honestly wins games,” said McGinness. “So we told each just go out there and don’t let them shoot or get underneath.”
Redskin captain McGinness had an outstanding game for Calaveras on both sides of the ball. She scored a game-high 22 points and was fearsome in the post with 11 rebounds.
“Brianna does well all the time,” said Lewis. “She’ll fight to the very end and she’s our go-to person in the post because she’s very hard to stop. She’s a worker, she’s determined and she wants to go play at the next level. She’s been working really hard to get that opportunity.”
Calaveras came out strong in the first quarter and jumped to an early 7-0 lead, but Sonora’s full court press led to steals and turnovers that proved costly for the Redskins.
Wildcats Fong and Stephanie Chung drained consecutive treys to cut Calaveras’ lead to one-point. Leah Dambacher then gave Sonora its first lead with a bucket off an assist from Henington with 2:50 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats stayed one step ahead of the Redskins throughout the rest of the half and led 23-20 at the break.
The Redskins were aggressive to start the third quarter and reclaimed the lead with a 7-0 run, which included a 3-pointer by Courtney Tarbat off a pass from Bridgette McGinness that put Calaveras up 31-29.
McGinness recorded all four of her assists in the second half, which included one to her twin sister, Brianna, that left Calaveras leading 35-31 at the end of the third quarter and set up the heart -stopping final period.
“I just knew I had to dribble through the press and give it to the girls who are making it,” said McGinness. “(Brianna) and I have playing for so long and we’re twins, so I know when she’s on and need to keep feeding it to her.”
Sonora held Brianna McGinness to only four points in the first half, but she came out in the second and scored 18.
“Some of that was us not up on our person in transition defense and she made us pay,” said Santos. “She’s a great player and had a great finish.”
For Sonora, Henington ended the night with 18 points, four steals, two rebounds and two assists. Helping the Cats in the post was Angela Gardella, who grabbed a team-high eight boards.
Stead also had 11 total points for Sonora with seven in the fourth quarter.
“She came off the bench and really that push in the fourth quarter to get us into overtime,” said Santos. “I feel like I say this a lot, but this was a really, really good preseason game because there is so much to learn and take away from an overtime game. Especially against the defending Section champ.”
Brianna McGinness credited tight teamwork late in the game with helping the Redskins come out on top.
“I feel like toward the end we really started to come together and work hard to get those passes that we really needed but were turning over in the beginning of the game,” she said. “We just ended up working well as a team. Courtney Tarbat really helped us tonight with her defense and Kelly Airola stepped it up with her dribbling and getting it past the break. All the girls did really well but they definitely played hard.”
Lewis was pleased with the victory but was concerned about his team’s early turnovers when Sonora defenders were pressing.
“We need to work on our pressure against the press because if people scout us they’re going to press,” said Lewis. “But we’re gonna get better.”
The Redskins (6-1) next will travel to McNair for a weekend tournament. Their final preseason test will be against Scotts Valley at home on Dec. 29 before their first Mother Lode League game against host Amador on Jan. 2.
Calaveras is hoping to repeat a successful 2011-12 season that saw the Redskins clinch the MLL title with a 14-1 record and win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championship.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats (6-3) are preparing for road games against Livingston on Dec. 21 and Ceres on Dec. 27 before opening the Valley Oak League at Weston Ranch on Jan. 2.
“Hopefully, we finish our preseason strong and head into league with some momentum,” said Santos.