THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SACRAMENTO — Santa Rosa celebrated its inaugural appearance in the NorCal girls’ championships Tuesday night by breaking the tournament record for points in a game. The Panthers held it for approximately 25 seconds. Then El Camino of Sacramento went one point higher, and it was the point that mattered most.
The seventh-seeded Eagles scored two baskets in the final 40 seconds to steal a dramatic and frenetic 84-83 victory at El Camino High that was exhausting just to watch. El Camino pushed a dizzying pace in this first-round Division 2 game, and No. 10-seed Santa Rosa responded in kind, taking control and building a lead that reached 16 points in the third quarter. The Panthers didn’t have enough steam to close out the game.
After the game, El Camino forward Laurel Donnenwirth explained that the Eagles begin the season with three-hour practices, full of running. The practices eventually subside to two hours, but they go full speed from beginning to end.
Not that the Eagles were fresh as daisies after this battle.
“Me personally, I was dying,” Donnenwirth said. “But it means so much more in these games. So I feel like everyone has that little extra something in their tank to just keep the heart rate up and keep it going.”
Santa Rosa went up 83-80 on senior guard Shawnee Phillips’ scoop shot at the 40-second mark. But Donnenwirth answered with a basket inside, cutting the lead to a point. And when Rachel Brumfield, the Panthers’ senior point guard, drove the lane at the other end, the Eagles’ Jade Sowell Hundon stripped the ball, pushed it upcourt and kicked to Benissa Bulaya for what proved to be the winning basket.
It was the Eagles’ first lead since 25-24 early in the second quarter, and they called timeout with 12.6 seconds left. The Panthers had a final chance, but Phillips’ 3-point attempt bounced off the rim and the rugged Donnenwirth grabbed the rebound.
“Definitely, the last couple minutes of the fourth, we didn’t play to our best advantage,” Santa Rosa forward McKennan Bertsch said. “That was our opportunity to slow it down. We chose to keep running with them, and we played into their hands.”
A couple of Division 4 teams, Willows in 1988 and Piedmont in 2005, had held the previous record of 82 points. The old mark for most combined points by both teams — Willows 82, Chowchilla 58 in 1988 — was shattered with four minutes remaining in this one.
Bertsch (25) and Hannah Sourek (21) combined for 46 points, matching the output of the entire team in its loss to Clayton Valley in the North Coast Section semifinals. Freshman guard Katie Daly scored 11, Phillips 10 and Brumfield nine. Phillips, the do-everything court leader, also had seven rebounds and seven assists, while Bertsch led the team with eight rebounds.
Donnenwirth paced the Eagles with 19 points.
El Camino jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead at the start of the game, and looked like it might run the Panthers off the court with its withering pressure. Santa Rosa hadn’t seen a strong full-court press in several weeks, and when the Panthers got their feet under them, they were able to turn the tables and force the Eagles into numerous turnovers. All told, the teams combined for nearly 50.
Santa Rosa took the lead — nearly for good — with a 10-point run in the second quarter, but El Camino made it close again with an 11-2 spurt to close the third quarter.
The Eagles advance to face second seed Presentation of San Jose, while the Panthers must be content to look back on their best season in years, while knowing they were seconds away from taking it a step further.
“I told the girls, I’ve got nothing to complain about,” coach Steve Chisholm said. “We’ve had a tremendous run, and we had a tremendous game tonight. Hopefully, tonight’s loss will not detract from any of that.”
Someday, Bertsch said, she will look forward to watching film of this contest, which many in the gym were calling the best girls’ game they had ever seen.
“For sure,” she said. “It will be hard watching it, seeing, ‘Oh, look, I messed up there. Oh, that’s where I could’ve gotten the basket, and that’s where I could’ve made our team go ahead.’ Not for a long time will I be able to watch it. The wound’s too fresh. But a couple months maybe, it’ll be good to look back on this whole season.”