Greco, Tsurumoto fueling SRJC win streak

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nailing a 3-pointer to open Santa Rosa’s decisive second half over San Joaquin Delta at home on Tuesday, Jen Tsurumoto helped spark a Bear Cubs rally against one of California’s best junior college basketball teams.

Santa Rosa Junior College's Mia Greco leads the Bear Cubs in scoring this season. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD)

After a pair of losses to Delta in early season tournaments, the young Bear Cubs played with the confidence of a team coming together to make a run back to the state finals.

Tsurumoto, from Analy, and Mia Greco, out of Petaluma — the past two Empire high school girls’ players of the year — have helped lead Santa Rosa to the top of the Big 8 Conference.

Santa Rosa has won ninth straight since losing the City College of San Francisco tournament final by a basket to San Bernardino Valley College — California’s top ranked team.

“We realize we can compete with these teams,” Tsurumoto said. “We need to stay together as a team. If we do that, we’ll go pretty far.”

At 16-5 overall and 6-0 in conference play, Santa Rosa is ranked No. 8 in the latest California Community College Women’s Basketball Coaches Association poll and No. 3 in Northern California. Santa Rosa played a tough non-league schedule to prepare for a playoff run, including nine games against teams ranked in the latest state Top 20.

Santa Rosa is seeking a second-straight appearance in the California Community College Athletic Association’s final four. Last season, Santa Rosa lost in the state semifinals. The Bear Cubs had not been to the final four since 1988, when Santa Rosa won the school’s only state title.

“I think we have a really good chance. We played pretty well against the top-ranked teams. That prepared us for the pressure in the league because our league is tough,” Greco said.

First for the Bear Cubs is a goal of defending their conference title. The toughest league rivals appear to be Sierra College — No. 19 in the state — an improved American River team and traditional power Delta, at No. 18.

With a road win against Sierra and Tuesday’s victory over Delta, the Bear Cubs served notice they will be tough to beat.

“They executed really well,” said Delta coach Gina Johnson. “They really spread it around. Their players off the bench hit shots.”

The biggest difference was defense, she said.

Tsurumoto’s score to open the second half gave Santa Rosa a 13-point lead over Delta. The shot, though, made Delta play harder on both ends of the court, forcing turnovers and getting better shots. After seeing their lead narrowed to four points, Santa Rosa stiffened, pushing Delta into tougher field goal attempts, rebounding misses and breaking to create open shots.

“We had to outhustle them and be more physical. Contesting shots was huge and we did a great job chasing after balls,” said Santa Rosa coach Lacey Campbell. “We’ve gotten a lot better.”

In beating Delta, the Bear Cubs displayed their strength — unselfishness — whether it was scoring, rebounding or passing the ball.

Six players had at least eight points with Ashley Morgan (Maria Carrillo) leading with 14 and both Tsurumoto and Jenna Reed (Windsor) adding 13. Morgan, the team’s leading rebounder, and Jade Hudson each pulled down eight with Krysten Copeland (Santa Rosa), getting seven. Tsurumoto totaled six assists, Greco had five.

Delta defended hard on Greco, the Bear Cubs’ leading scorer, sending the point guard to the floor a handful of times. Others picked up the scoring led by Reed, Morgan and Marie Sweet.

“I don’t really feel much pressure just because we have a pretty deep team. It’s kind of nice not having one person who’s the go-to player,” Greco said.

Second-leading scorer Tsurumoto sat out long stretches of the Delta game due to foul trouble. When in the game, she didn’t force shots, dishing out far more assists than typical for her.

“To win you have to move the ball around. You just have to trust that the other players are going to make their shots,” Tsurumoto said. “It’s all about trust.”

Balanced scoring is hard to defend. Santa Rosa is by far the highest scoring team in the Big 8 Conference at 74 points per game.

Also impressive is the Bear Cubs defense. Santa Rosa is tied in conference for fewest points allowed with 51 per game.

“That’s what our coach really instills in us. We’ve actually done a really good job this year,” Greco said. “We’ve been forcing teams into more turnovers and being able to get out and run for fast break points.”

Playing mostly man-to-man defense, Santa Rosa relies on players helping one another to deny open shots and easy passes.

“Our strength is our team concept,” Campbell said. “They’re starting to learn what each can do. The entire team has really grown together.”

With only Greco and Copeland back from last year’s team and nine freshmen, Santa Rosa had a learning curve for the faster, tougher junior college game. Road conference games and hopefully the pressure of a playoff run remain tests.

“Every year is a dog fight,” Campbell said. “How we handle adversity will be big for us.”