Sunday, March 20, 2016

Elk Grove Girls Win NorCal Championship

How did these girls win?

The 12th-seeded team in the CIF Division II girls bracket defeated #7 seed Saturday, 46-45, for the Northern California Regional Basketball Championship at Sleep Train Arena.

"Amazing! Who would have thought a 12-seed would win it all?" Paiton Demps exclaimed leaving the floor.

Elk Grove celebrates a NorCal Championship Saturday
On the same weekend college's March Madness saw 13-, 14- and 15-seeds pull out upset wins, Elk Grove's girls basketball team took some of the same magic with them into Sleep Train and knock out a seven-seed in Sacramento, a team that had won four NorCals over the past ten years. Both teams were beaten in the semi-finals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs.

En route to Saturday's NorCal championship, Elk Grove defeated a five-, a four- and a one-seed. Now they prepare for a CIF State Championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. against Cajon High School of San Bernandino at Sleep Train Arena. In its school history, the Herd have never made it this far in basketball.

(See photos from Elk Grove's thrilling win on our Facebook site)

But, in the talented Dragons, the Lady Herd faced an bigger opponent, not afraid to throw their weight around and bounce the smaller Elk Grove girls out from under the bucket. And, in the opening quarter, it appeared as though Sacramento would run away with the game. They scored the first nine points while Elk Grove managed only one bucket in the first quarter.

It was 11-4, Sacramento, after the opening quarter and 22-15 at halftime. The Herd's top outside shooter, Madison Wong, was 0-for-8 from the floor in that half, Demps 0-for-6 and Mira Shulman 3-for-11. As a team the Herd made 15.2 percent of their shots and only one three-pointer.

Wong admitted afterwards the bigger arena played some tricks with her.

"Yeah, it took some getting used to," said Wong, who was two-for-17 shooting in the game. "But, it's the same court and the basket is at the same height. It's a mental thing."

"I tried to compare it with (University of the Pacific), " said Shulman who was just five-for-21 in her field goal attempts. "It was similar and I had to compare it to UOP, been there and done that."

At the same time, Sacramento didn't convert opportunities to run the Herd back to Elk Grove. The Dragons committed ten turnovers in that opening half and 25 for the game. That latter stat would mean doom to Sac High's attempt to win a NorCal title for the first time since 2006.

Mira Shulman who led Elk Grove with 14 points
The second half things got better quickly for Elk Grove. On its first possession, they got six offensive rebounds in a row and then hit a bucket and after that the Herd got itself back into the game.

"Coming out for the third quarter we knew we had to have a four-minute stance of stopping them while scoring the ball ourselves," Price said. "Collectively we had that burst of second chance rebounds."

They got the lead when Wong hit a short jumper with 1:13 left in the third quarter, 29-28. Coach Larry Price had Shulman work one-on-one offensively against her defender and, usually getting a pick from Tierra Martin, Shulman would dart down the lane and convert on either short jump shots or layups.

Shulman's two final drives in the third period gave Elk Grove the lead, 33-32, heading to the final quarter. Her three-pointer with 4:55 left in the game tied everything up at 37 apiece.

After Sacramento called a time out to talk about how to try to stop Shulman, it was Arianna Daniel's turn for some key baskets. Her fast break layup gave Elk Grove a 39-37 lead. After a free throw by Sacramento's Richelle Turney, Daniel hit another layup to make it 41-38, Elk Grove, with three minutes exactly remaining on the clock.

Adriana Avent made one of two free throws for the Dragons to make it a two point game, 41-39 and 2:27 left. After an Elk Grove turnover, Sacramento had the ball and called a time-out. The Herd's defense came through on the inbounds and forced a five-second whistle to give Elk Grove the ball. Demps converted on a line-drive jumper in the paint to make it 43-39 and 2:02 remaining. 

Larry Price during a third quarter time-out
Turney made a basket and then Shulman was fouled on a drive to the bucket, converting two more free throws. Elk Grove led 45-41 with 1:32 remaining.

Quayonna Harris hit a field goal to make it 45-43 at the 1:15 mark. Demps missed a three-pointer on the next possession and Sacramento got a fast break layup by Avent to tie the contest at 45 with :45 left.

Shulman was fouled in the act of shooting by Aliceah Hernandez and she made the first free throw to make it 46-45, Elk Grove. The second toss was missed and Demps tipped the rebound to Wong. Price then called a time out to discuss the final :39.2 seconds. In the post-game interview afterwards the girls tried to remember what happened in those final moments.

Shulman got off a shot that missed and there was a tie-up for the rebound. The possession clock was  pointing to Elk Grove and it was still Herd ball with :16 remaining.

The Herd worked the ball to Wong who was fouled by RyAnne Walters. The Herd was in the bonus and Wong stepped to the line for the one-and-one. She missed the free throw, Sacramento rebounded and quickly moved up the floor without a time-out.

"I ran back on defense after I missed the free throw," Wong recalled. "I was looking for Aliceah Hernandez because I knew they were going to try to get her the ball. Then she threw up some shot."

Hernandez got off a shot with three seconds left missed it and the rebound came to an unguarded Dragon who tried an off-balance banker that plunked off the rim at the horn.

"My heart dropped," Shulman said, knowing that shot could have won the game for Sacramento. "There's no way she should have had that, but it bounced that way."

The celebration began on the court for the Herd, a club that was 24-10 this season and finished second place in the Delta League.

Dripping with perspiration and toweling himself off in the media room afterwards, Price could only commend the performance of his girls.

"Resilient, resilient, " he said. "They are family and they fight and they strive together."

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