Don't tell the Sonora Wildcat girls that Tuesday's basketball game against the East Union Lancers didn't matter.
A day after Sonora found out that a Weston Ranch coaching error on Saturday led to a forfeit that had extinguished its playoff hopes, the Wildcats showed nothing but fight in a 55-51 loss at Bud Castle Gym.
"No matter what, we were gonna play hard and fight to the end," said Wildcat senior Shea Stead. "No matter what, we were going for the win, playoffs or not."
"The girls were mad," said Wildcat head coach Amy Santos. "They took it personally and they were mad. They were real loose before the game and I wasn't sure how to get a read on that .. but I loved it. I loved how they came out."
Playing without its top scorer, and one of the top guards in the Valley Oak League, Bailey Henington, Sonora dominated East Union through the first eight minutes.
Sonora came out of the gates on fire on both ends of the court. The Wildcat full-court press pressured the Lancers into several turnovers which were converted into layups.
The Wildcats scored 21 points in the first quarter to the Lancers 13. Elyse Quenneville and Sandra Renda each scored six points. Quenneville also added four rebounds and two assists.
But the second period is where Sonora lost the lead and never got it back. East Union went on an 18-3 run to take a 31-24 halftime lead.
The Lancers, behind star freshman Loretta Kakala, added to their lead in the third period. The Wildcats could not match up with the taller, bigger forward and she tallied a game-high 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
East Union built a 12-point lead at one point, but led 44-36 heading into the final period.
The Lancers scored two quick baskets to start the final frame to re-take their 12-point lead and, with playoffs out of the equation, the Wildcats had every right to let East Union runaway.
But they didn't.
"We are definitely a fighting team," said Wildcat senior Shea Stead. "Were not a team that gives up and stops no matter how much we're up, or how much we're down. We'll play to the final buzzer no matter what."
Sophomore Michelle Ries hit back-to-back baskets and Leah Dambacher hit a pair of free throws and within one minute, the Cats were down by just six, 48-42.
The Lancers pushed the lead back to eight, 51-43, with3:57left but Stead canned a 3-pointer and one minute later Ries added a pair of free throws to make it a one possession game.
Kakala drove to the basket 20 seconds later for a layup to make it 53-48.
A few seconds later, Sonora's Brooke Canepa brought the Sonora fans to their feet when she banked home a long-range 3 to make it 53-51 with2:10left. But the Wildcats would get no closer.
"I was very proud of the girls," Santos said. "They came out and fought through so much adversity and so much ... ridiculousness. I was so happy with the way they came together and fought the entire time. They never once let up. I told them in there, nobody in here should have any regrets. 99 percent of teams finish their season on a loss. I think they should feel pretty OK about this game. That (East Union) was a good team. We were without our leading scorer and we lost by four points, I'm proud of them."
Everytime the Wildcats needed offense, Ries answered the call. She knew she had to step up with Henington out and scored a team-high 16 points and also grabbed a Sonora-high seven rebounds.
"It's hard playing without Bailey, because she's our top scorer, but it also makes us realize that we all need to step up, and we needed to come together without her," Ries said. "She was on the bench helping us and suporting us. And I think we all came together as a team and played really good."
"She has been maturing and growing as the season has gone on," Santos said of Ries. "I'm so excited she's just a sophomore. This is her passion, this is her love. She's got a great attitude and works hard."
Also for Sonora (14-10, 7-7 VOL), Stead scored 12 points, made four steals and dished three assists, Canepa scored seven points, Quenneville netted six and grabbed six boards and Renda scored six points.
Stead and fellow senior Maria Chacon played their final game for Sonora and the co-captains will be missed by their coach.
"They brought us great leadership," Santos said. "They were our captains, voted on by the team, and they were great captains. Shea has a very high hoops IQ, she knows what to do in any position. And Maria is one of the hardest workers we have. We're gonna miss them, that's for sure."