NorCals: Sonoma Academy confident

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After waiting all season for the arrival of coach Kevin Christensen’s newborn daughter, the Sonoma Academy girls’ basketball team would love to deliver a Nor Cal regional playoff win today over Bradshaw Christian.

Junior Kate Bayes leads the Coyotes in scoring with an average of 22 points a game. Photo by Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat

If Sonoma Academy plays as well in Sacramento as it did in the second half of the North Coast Section semifinal loss to St. Joseph Notre Dame, the Coyotes could pull off an upset over the San Joaquin Section Division V champions.

“We’ve improved,” said point guard and leading scorer Kate Bayes. “We know what it’s like to play in a big game. We’ve got all the nerves out.
The Sonoma Academy girls were a confident, cheerful squad at Monday’s practice. A highlight was getting a peek at Hannah Christensen, born Saturday to the coach and his wife, Megan.
The proud father and his players hope to carry the relaxed approach they rediscovered in the St. Joseph Notre Dame game into the Bradshaw Christian contest.

“The second half was the best game we had all year,” Christensen said. “You want to be playing your best at this time of year, and we are.”

In the section playoffs, Sonoma Academy (25-5)scored above their season average. The Coyotes’ quick, aggressive defensive play has fueled the offense.

“We go fast in transition. We press. We’re a quick team,” Christensen said. “We like to get out and get as many easy baskets as possible.”
Returning starters Maxmarie Wilmoth and Bayes are joined by a pair of sharp shooting guards in Kiana Herold and Willow Gallagher, with Tori Gimpel an anchor down low.
Led by 22 points a game from Bayes, the Coyotes are more balanced than in past seasons.

“We’ve got more scorers this year,” Bayes said. “We’re younger. They have a lot of energy all the time.”
While opponents try to limit Bayes, that opens opportunities for her teammates.
“Kate’s such a good player,” Christensen said.
“She does a good job finding other people. Kate will do what it takes to win.”

Defeating Bradshaw Christian (22-9) will be difficult.
The Pride averaged 60 points and only gave up 28 a game in four wins to take the San Joaquin Section Division V title.

Two of the wins came over teams also in the Nor Cal regional.

PANTHERS, RVC IN ACTION
Other Nor Cal Regional games featuring Empire girls’ teams:

Santa Rosa (23-8) at El Camino (28-2), 7 p.m.
A pair of teams that look to push the pace with the ball, Santa Rosa and El Camino both look to get back in the win column after losing section semifinals last week.
“We’ve been practicing hard since then. We’ve been looking to the next game and keeping our confidence up,” said McKennan Bertsch.
Leading the Panthers are a trio of seniors who helped Santa Rosa capture the North Bay League title: Bertsch, at forward, scores 11 a game and also leads with 9 rebounds; guard Shawnee Phillips scores 10 a game and adds 3 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals; point guard Rachel Brumfield hands out 5 assists and gets a pair of steals a game.
Deep as well as talented, Santa Rosa also gets strong play from forward Heidi Sourek, with 11 points and 9 rebounds a game, and guard Katie Daly with 8 points and 3 assists per contest.
Staying composed under El Camino’s pressure defense will be important if Santa Rosa has a chance against its hosts in Sacramento.
The Panthers can go to their bench without a significant drop in play to keep fresh legs on the court.
Santa Rosa averages 55 points a game and gives up 42. El Camino has similar splits, scoring 65 and yielding 54 per contest.
Turlock Christian (21-9) at Rincon Valley Christian (29-3), 7 p.m.

Hosting a Nor Cal regional is Rincon Valley Christian’s reward for reaching the North Coast Section Division V finals.
What the Eagles must do to advance is shake off poor shooting in the St. Joseph Notre Dame loss and play the tough zone defense that forces opponents to shoot over Rincon Valley Christian’s tall, athletic trio of Arianna Hanson, Hannah Dolan and Claire Bailey.

“Defensively we were contesting their outside shot and we were limiting the shots they got inside.
The third quarter the scoring just snowballed and went from there,” Eagles’ coach Doug Crouse said of the section finals loss.
On offense, Rincon Valley Christian is led by Hanson at point forward with 15 points a game.
Bailey and Dolan each average about 12 points and 9 rebounds per contest.

An aggressive defensive team, Turlock Christian will attempt to disrupt Rincon Valley Christian’s scoring and keep Hanson in check. Turlock Christian has some size to matchup with the Eagles.
Turlock Christian bettered its season averages — 55 points scored and 39 given up per contest — in reaching the San Joaquin Section Division V semifinal. Rincon Valley Christian is outscoring teams by 18 points a game on the season.