Skins’ fantastic voyage ends at State Elite Eight

March 14, 2012 06:10 pm
REDSKIN STAR GUARD Nikki Gleason (11) drives and shoots over Mikayla Cowling (3) on Tuesday night in Albany. The Redskins were defeated by the Panthers, 62-38. Gleason led Calaveras to the MLL and section championship this season. JASON BUCK/UNION DEMOCRAT
ALBANY—The Calaveras Redskins glorious and unforgettable 2011-12 basketball season came to a close on Tuesday night.
    Enjoying a mountainous height advantage, perennial-power St. Mary’s of Albany advanced to the Final Four in the CIF Division IV State Championships with a 62-38 home win over Calaveras.
    “I don’t want this game to take away at all from what our girls accomplished this year,” said Calaveras head coach Mike Lewis. “This was one great season.”
    “St. Mary’s was a really good team and they are tall,” said Redskin Savannah Duncan. “Their height advantage was huge and that hurt us. But they are also very skilled, too. I’m proud that we never stopped playing our hardest tonight.”
      The Redskins marvelous, majestic season-long ride began in December with an 11-1 preseason.
    Calaveras then went 14-1 in Mother Lode League play earning its second consecutive title.
    The Redskins were ranked No. 1 heading into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships in mid-February.
    This was one heck of a basketball team.
    The Redskins two starting post players, 5-foot-11 senior Maddie Cox and 5-10 junior Brianna McGinness, were rebounding zombies. Both are skilled mechanically with regards to boxing out, positioning and timing. More than that, they’re each tenacious. Simply put, they wanted the rebound more than their opponents.
    Even on Tuesday night in Albany, facing a frontcourt of 6-foot-2, 6-foot-1 and 6-foot, Cox had a game-high 11 rebounds and McGinness was close behind with eight.
    All season, Cox and McGinness wore opponents down — broke their will. Sometimes Cox and McGinness would go to the glass and realize their toughest foe for a rebound was each other. Oh, it’s just you again.
    And all three senior Redskin starting guards, Duncan, R.B. Ruhl and Nikki Gleason, also liked doing dirty work: Diving for loose balls, going for boards, making steals.
    Ruhl and Duncan are dead-on sharpshooters. And Gleason? She’s a cunning driver, savvy dribbler and an ace distributer. Top point guard in the section? Of course she was.
    The sixth-man on this ballclub was 5-10 junior forward Bridgette McGinness, and Lewis had the luxury of putting her at forward or guard. Bridgette McGinness can clean the window and is equally adept at handling the rock.
    And the foundation of this championship squad was defense.
    Team defense.
    There was an unmistakable bond on this Redskins team. They respected each other. Whichever five Lady Reds were on the floor at any given time, each was playing in-your-face, inflexible, strangling defense.
    And then came the momentous collective payoff for all their hard work.
     On March 3 at Power Balance Pavilion, these Redskins captured the  school’s first section championship in 37 years with a 56-45 victory over West Campus.
    Calaveras qualified for the CIF State Championships and these Lady Reds weren’t interested in just a quick cup of coffee.
    On Saturday, Calaveras knocked off traditional-powerhouse Marin Catholic, 33-31, advancing to the Elite Eight.
    The biggest obstacle towards defeating St. Mary’s on Tuesday wasn’t that it has Mikayla Cowling, a 6-foot dynamic sophomore forward who already verbally committed to Cal. The bigger problem was that Cowling is the third best player on St. Mary’s.
    Panthers senior forward Shannon Mauldin averages a team-high 17 points and scored 19 against Calaveras. Panthers 6-1 forward Gabby Green is rated by one national high school rating service as the No. 5 sophomore in America. Against Calaveras, Green had nine points, seven rebounds and five steals.
    St. Mary’s was ahead of Calaveras 18-6 after one quarter and 31-11 at halftime.
    With 4:11 left in the third quarter, St. Mary’s stretched that lead to 24 points, 40-16.
    “I think at that point,” said Cox, “we each collectively thought, ‘OK, we’re down. If we’re going out, let’s go out strong.’ ”
    “We gave it our all,” said Ruhl. “We put our hearts out there.”
    “All game we never backed off them,” said the 5-foot-6 Gleason. “We never stopped playing hard. And, then, in that third quarter, we kind of put it to ‘em.”
    “Their size had kept us from running our offense well,” said Lewis. “But in that third quarter, we just started shooting the ball instead of making one-too-many passes and things clicked for awhile.”
    Gleason swished an 18-footer and cut the lead to 22.
    Cox drained a 13-footer and the deficit was 20.
    With 2:02 left in the quarter, Gleason flew downcourt and faced three defenders at the arc. The Redskin faithful — and there was a rather large and loud Calaveras contingent on hand — had seen this type of Gleason magic before.
    Gleason cross-dribbled by Cowling, easily zipped by Panthers 6-foot center Caitlin Senneca, faked a drive, pulled up for an 11-footer, drew an in-flight foul on guard Kimmi Masuoka, swished the shot anyways, canned her freebie — and Calaveras trailed by 17.
    Brianna McGinness then made a steal, Cox hit a 6-footer and Calaveras trailed by 15.
    With 35 seconds left in the quarter, Cox grabbed a defensive board, looked upcourt and tossed an on-the-money bomb to Duncan, who dropped in a bunny and Calaveras trailed just 40-27 at quarters’ end.
    So for over four minutes the Redskins had shut out St. Mary’s.
    Unfortunately for Calaveras, St. Mary’s opened the final frame on a 12-0 run and sealed its win.
    For Calaveras, Cox had a team-high 15 points, Duncan four, Raylene Bonham three, and Ruhl and Gleason had seven apiece. Brianna McGinness scored two points and had a team-high three steals. Gleason dished three assists and grabbed four boards, Ruhl had three rebounds and Paulina Mejia grabbed two.
    “Well,” said Cox, “we had a great run. What I’ll remember most this year is that our team became a family, and we won the section.”
    “Being able to win the section and to qualify for the State Tournament are huge accomplishments,” said Duncan. “And just being a part of this team is a great memory in itself.”
    Four years ago, Gleason was a 5-foot guard starting on varsity.
    With her outstanding career now over, Gleason said, “Back then, as a freshman, I never could have imagined that we’d ever make it this far into State. I wouldn’t trade these four years for anything. This year, we really came together as a team and we had a lot of fun.”
    “I’ll always remember the practices because that’s what got us here,” said Lewis. “We didn’t say, ‘Let’s win this’ or ‘Let’s win that.’ We only thought about getting better at practices and carrying that over into games.
    “I think this team will always be remembered for winning the section title. Let’s face it, you win a section title, you breathe a sigh of relief and, really, anything after that is gravy.”