Pumas beat Cougars in OT

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Aaliyah Sowards scored 13 points to lead Maria Carrillo to a 37-36 overtime win over Rancho Cotate on Monday night. Photo by Jeff Kan Lee / The Press Democrat

The “new look” Maria Carrillo girls basketball team got a 3-point goal from Sara Irvine early in overtime and a game-saving steal by Madison Sowards in the waning seconds as the Pumas defeated Rancho Cotate, 37-36, in a North Bay League game Monday night.

It was Carrillo’s third straight win since leading scorer Taylor Graham went down with a torn ACL in her left knee. The Pumas easily defeated Piner and Elsie Allen last week, but Rancho proved to be a much tougher opponent.

The Cougars trailed by double digits in the first half, but outscored Carrillo by 10 after intermission to force overtime.

Emily Wilson’s free throw put the Pumas in front, 34-33, in the opening seconds of the four-minute extra period, and Irvine’s 3-pointer at the 3:07 mark proved to be the big shot of the game.

Rancho freshman Keilani Fronda got her team within one with a 3-pointer with 2:40 remaining. Following a travel call on Aaliyah Sowards, the Cougars got the ball back with 27 seconds left.
Anticipating a pass into the low post, Madison Sowards made the steal that enabled the Cougars to secure the win.

“Losing a player like Graham is difficult for any team to overcome,” coach Steve Azevedo said. “She was our point guard, our leading scorer and our best defensive player.
“We’re a different team without her. We’re going to need her teammates to step up and do more offensively and defensively.”

Graham, a junior, suffered the season-ending injury early in the second half on Jan. 22 against Rincon Valley Christian. Leading a fast break, and with a defender in pursuit, she stopped just short of the basket. When she came down, she tore her ACL. RVC won the game, 31-28. Graham will have surgery Feb. 9.
Irvine stepped up against Rancho by scoring a season-high 11, including the big shot in OT.
The shot clock was winding down when the junior got the ball on top, just back of the 3-point line.

“I practice that shot a lot,” Irvine said. “I had a defender coming out to me, but was able to get the shot off. I knew it was in when it left my hands.
“We’re all going to have to pick up the slack now that Taylor’s gone, and I was glad I was able to contribute.”
Aaliyah Sowards, whose older sister made the game-saving steal, was the Pumas’ top scorer with 13.
“We weren’t nervous when Rancho came back to send the game to overtime,” the sophomore said. “We knew if we focused on what we needed to do and played our game, we’d win. That’s what we did.”
Her older sister had five points, 10 rebounds and three steals.
When the teams played Jan. 11 at Rancho Cotate, the Pumas won, 31-22.
Fronda was the Cougars’ leading scorer with 11.

“She played well on both sides of the ball,” coach Doug Haught said of the freshman. “We didn’t score much in the first half (nine points), but Carrillo’s defense had a lot to do with that.”
The Pumas confused the Cougars by alternating between zone and man-to-man defenses. Their press was also effective.

Maria Carrillo is 14-8 overall; 8-2 in league. Rancho is 7-14 and 3-7.