By SIM RISSO
For The Union Democrat
The Calaveras Redskins (24-3 overall, 14-1 in the MLL) girls’ basketball team wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Division IV playoffs by knocking off the Bret Harte Bullfrogs (16-10 overall, 10-5 in the MLL) 47-41 on Friday night.
The game was played at Calaveras High School, but as is customary for games in this rivalry, both sides were equally represented by their respective fan bases.
After Calaveras had the Bullfrogs’ number all season long, going 3-0 against Bret Harte, it looked as if the Bullfrogs would return the favor on Friday night, as they came out scorching offensively and played some excellent shut-down defense.
Bret Harte opened the game in a 1-1-3 defensive alignment. Bret Harte’s stifling zone defense bothered Calaveras early and held the Redskins to only four first-quarter points.
“We made some adjustments based on what we had done against them defensively in the past,” said Bullfrogs head coach Kim Ramorini. “We went with something we had seen a little bit more success with and figured we’d start with it. It really paid off. We play great defense, we really do. That’s our bread and butter. Every game we have a different set of plans and our girls just step up and they get things done. They knew what they had to do and they cover things well. We got them rattled in the beginning and they missed some shots.”
Despite trailing 15-4 at the end of the first quarter, the Redskins kept a positive mentality and kept fighting back, little by little.
“I only took a glance up at the scoreboard,” said Calaveras senior captain and 2011 All-Area Most Valuable Player Nikki Gleason. “I didn’t realize it was that much, but we kept our composure. We’ve been down by more and come back and won by twice as much. So us getting off to a bad start ... it wasn’t the first time. It stinks but we usually pull through. So as long as we kept our composure, I was thinking that we would pull through in the end.”
Starting in the second quarter, the Redskins made a defensive adjustment of their own. They began playing a full-court man defense, pressing the Bullfrogs and slowing down their offense. After scoring 15 points in the opening quarter, Bret Harte was held to only seven in the second quarter, giving it 22 at the half.
Calaveras for its part, slowly began getting its offense going in the second quarter, chipping away at the lead and scoring 13 points in the quarter. That, along with its tenacious defense, allowed Calaveras to go into the half only trailing 22-17.
The Redskins opened the third quarter shooting lights out from downtown. Three-pointers by Gleason and R.B. Ruhl gave Calaveras a 25-24 lead with 5:10 remaining in the third quarter.
After Calaveras’ mini-run, both teams traded baskets throughout the third quarter with Calaveras clinging to a 35-34 lead at the end of three quarters.
The game would go much the same way throughout the fourth quarter. Both teams traded baskets with the score knotted at 41 with 1:54 remaining. But from there the Calaveras defense clamped down, shutting out Bret Harte over the final two minutes of play.
Calaveras senior Maddie Cox was the Redskins leading scorer with 12 points. She also hauled in six rebounds, three of them offensive. But more importantly, she was a catalyst in crunch time. First she knocked down an 18-footer from the left baseline with 40.8 seconds remaining, giving Calaveras a 44-41 advantage. Then on Bret Harte’s ensuing possession she intercepted a pass and got the ball to Brianna McGinness who was fouled before knocking down a free throw to make it a two-possession game at 45-41.
It was Calaveras’ defense that ultimately won the game. After allowing 15 points in the opening quarter, the Redskins buckled down and held Bret Harte to 26 points over the final three quarters.
“I thought we played great defense and our full-court man caused them some problems,” said Calaveras head coach Mike Lewis. “It took them a little bit out of their game because they were doing well. It took them a little bit to get the ball up. We slowly, slowly, slowly just came back. Then it went back and forth. It’s like a playoff game, big-time playoff game. But down the stretch we played great defense.”
Bret Harte was led by senior captain Mackenzie Theiler who had a game-high 14 points (nine in the first half) and hauled in five rebounds and blocked one shot.
“She played great,” said Ramorini of Theiler’s play. “She’s an amazing athlete, so when you just throw a ball into the mix, everyone’s in for a surprise and a treat. Her athleticism shines against everyone else she goes against. She’s really come a long way as a player.”
Both teams will be moving on to the playoffs. The Redskins have clinched the No. 1 seed and are hoping to make some noise in the playoffs.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Lewis. “Now I know we’re going to remain the No. 1 seed, so we’re going to play No. 16. It’s nice to be in the Top Four where you get the opportunity to play two home games. If we can stay on track, hopefully we’ll go a long way. I don’t want to jinx us or anything but we’ll see what happens.”
After a tough non-league schedule and some solid play down the stretch, the Bullfrogs think they have a recipe for success in the playoffs. They feel like they’re in a pretty good position. Bret Harte is the No. 11 Division IV seed and will travel on Tuesday to face No. 6 Riverbank.
“We’re gonna be ready for Tuesday, and the team that we’re playing, they better be afraid, because it’s gonna be intense,” said Theiler. “I think we’re set up pretty well. I’m proud of our team. I’m excited. I think we’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna kick butt.”
The Union Democrat is now online in a Replica E-edition form and publishes Tuesday through Saturday. E-Edition or Print Plus subscribers have full access.
If you are not a current subscriber, subscribe today for immediate access. Circulation: 209-533-3614
Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties