St. Joseph ND overwhelms RVC girls, 52-29

Rincon Valley Christian's Sophia Gaorian looks to pass after driving to the hoop Friday night at Albany High. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD).

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

ALBANY — It was clear from the outset of this North Coast Section Division 5 girls game that Rincon Valley Christian wouldn’t be able to keep up with St. Joseph Notre Dame’s lightning-quick perimeter players. So the Eagles resorted to their usual plan against speed teams — they slowed down the ball and tried to work it inside in a controlled half-court offense.

Access denied.

Unfortunately for second-seeded RVC, center Carmen Lockhart proved to be an impenetrable force inside for No. 1 St. Joseph. Lockhart is 6-foot-4 and a wide body in the most favorable sense, and she made the lane a veritable black hole for the Eagles, often without even jumping.

“Our game is usually in the post,” RVC senior Arianna Hanson said. “But when you get inside and you see that big girl with her hands straight up, you just say, ‘My word.’ ”

It all added up to a convincing 52-29 victory for the Pilots at Albany High. The school from Alameda claimed its first NCS title and looked like it could challenge in a higher division. In fact, of St. Joseph’s four losses this season, three came to St. Mary’s, the top seed in Division 4.

This one nearly got away from the Eagles from the outset as they fell behind 9-0 in the first three minutes of the game, looking a bit discombobulated on offense while under attack from the Pilots’ swarming guards.

But after falling behind by nine, RVC managed to fight back in the second quarter, turning up the defensive pressure (St. Joseph gave away eight turnovers in the period) and four times cutting the deficit to six points. It was a manageable 20-14 at halftime.

“The second quarter was great,” Eagles coach Doug Crouse said. “It would be nice to put four of those together.”

St. Joseph scored the first four points after halftime and used a 10-3 run later in the third quarter to build a lead. Neither team scored in the first 2:15 of the final period, and the Pilots were fairly unstoppable after that. Junior guard Jessica de Mesa put an exclamation point on the game when she completed a 4-point play about midway through the fourth. She drained a 3-pointer, and converted the free throw after getting fouled by Sophia Gaorian.

“Those are nice to have,” St. Joseph coach Julianne Berry said. “It came at the right time and added to our momentum.”

De Mesa’s big play made it 40-24 and reality began to set in for RVC (29-3).

St. Joseph (23-4) had four players in double figures — Lockhart with 14 (all but two in the second half), Desiree Harris and Monina Cuyugan with 12 each, and de Mesa with 10 — while RVC had none. Cuyugan, Harris and de Mesa also furnished most of the defensive harassment, picking off passes that usually seem safe to the Eagles.

“They’re just a better team,” RVC senior forward Hannah Dolan admitted through tears after the game. “We play best as a team, and we couldn’t do that tonight.”

Hannah Dolan led the Eagles with eight points and added 10 rebounds. Senior center Claire Bailey had seven points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three steals, keying the defensive charge with an inspired game. Hanson grabbed 10 boards, and Gaorian chipped in with seven points.

Both of these teams advance to the NorCal playoffs, and RVC is expecting at least one home game.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.