By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Recent owners of a 14-game winning streak, the Montgomery girls suddenly, shockingly find themselves in the midst of a three-game losing skid after falling to Santa Rosa at home, 54-34, on Tuesday night.
Maybe the Vikings should call a players-only meeting and reinvent their season. It worked for Santa Rosa.
It was the Panthers who hit a three-game slide back in mid-January, losing to Montgomery by 13 points at Santa Rosa High in the third of those stumbles.
The Panthers’ three senior captains — guards Shawnee Phillips and Rachel Brumfield, and forward McKennan Bertsch — had seen enough. They gathered their teammates the next day and demanded that the entire team change its focus, its practice habits and its commitment.
“We decided we needed to go to two-a-day practices on Saturday, and we need to pick it up in practices,” Bertsch said. “We completely changed our coaching mentality and our playing mentality. We picked out new offenses and new defenses, and from there it went up.”
Santa Rosa hasn’t lost since the meeting — in fact, hasn’t won by fewer than 10 points. It currently rides a six-game streak, and none of the wins was bigger than Tuesday’s, which gave the Panthers a one-game lead in the North Bay League with one game left.
Santa Rosa would seem to have the easier finale, too, hosting Piner (1-11 in the NBL) on Thursday, while Montgomery is at Rancho Cotate (5-7). Certainly, anything can happen, but it’s starting to look like the NBL will have a new champion.
The Panthers brought a large following across town, and the visitors’ student section frequently drowned out the home fans.
On the court, Santa Rosa led 9-8 after a quarter, but went on a 15-2 run in second period and never led by fewer than 11 after that.
Part of Santa Rosa’s plan for reinvention was better defense, and that was the difference Tuesday. The usually reliable Vikings hit just 9 of 50 shots (18 percent) and were visibly frustrated by the fourth quarter.
Nimble forward Anandi Jimenez averages 14.8 points for Montgomery (19-6, 10-3 NBL). She got 10 against Santa Rosa (18-7, 11-2), but had only two at the 3:30 mark of the third quarter, before asserting herself toward the end.
Bertsch drew the duty of stopping Jimenez and overplayed her to the shooter’s left, knowing she’d get help from junior forward Hannah Sourek in stopping the left-handed Jimenez’s hook shot.
Bertsch and Sourek were brilliant, thwarting Jimenez, banging the boards and filling the lane on offense. Sourek led the Panthers with 15 points and Bertsch had 14, while Phillips added 12.
Freshman Katie Daly had just four points but showed why she is one of the most promising players in the Empire, leading the defensive charge against decorated Montgomery point guard Sarah Fitzgerald, who scored nine but never really found a rhythm.
“She plays with a lot of poise,” Santa Rosa coach Steve Chisholm said of Daly. “When we brought her on, she fit right in. She bonded with everyone.”
It was Senior Night at the Montgomery gym, with the Vikings’ five seniors all getting extended introductions and long-stemmed roses before tipoff. Jimenez, Fitzgerald and the rest ultimately left disappointed.
The Monty girls have little time now to find an answer to their doldrums. Coach Steve Bell thinks the ball is bound to start bouncing their way.
“I’m still very proud of this group,” Bell said. “I’d like to see ’em get a little luck to go with that confidence.”
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or email@example.com