Mustangs prevail again

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The young but determined St. Vincent girls are playing together and smarter in the basketball season’s home stretch as the Mustangs showed in a convincing win Tuesday night at Sonoma Academy.

Pressing on defense and pushing on offense, St. Vincent controlled long stretches of the contest for a 55-42 win to stay undefeated in North Central League II play and hand Sonoma Academy its second league loss – both to the Mustangs.

“We knew they wanted it. We just played harder this time. We played better as a team,” said senior point guard Shannon Carroll, who led St. Vincent with 17 points.

Tuesday’s contest was another measure of St. Vincent’s growth as a team. The Mustangs have only two seniors yet are ranked second in North Coast Section Division 5 and 11th in California, with Sonoma Academy one spot back in both polls.

Leading by double digits for most of three quarters, St. Vincent clearly improved from the Mustangs’ one point win over Sonoma Academy in early January.

What the Coyotes need heading to the postseason is more consistent effort on defense and rebounding. Despite playing before a large home crowd, Sonoma Academy also played tentative for stretches on offense.

“We were hoping to come out and get a win. We haven’t showed it the two times we met,” said Sonoma Academy’s Kate Bayes, who led all scorers with 25 points.

Getting out to an early eight-point advantage with Carroll leading the way, St. Vincent pushed the margin to a dozen in the second quarter with five Mustangs in the scoring column.

The sometimes rugged play featured St. Vincent pressing across the court on defense, denying passing lanes and handcuffing Coyote shooters.

By rotating to double- and sometimes triple-team Bayes, the Mustangs worked to push Bayes beyond her shooting range. St. Vincent limited the Nebraska-Omaha bound standout to 8 first half points – all but a pair from the free throw line.

“We’re getting a lot better defensively,” said St. Vincent coach Jim Fagundes. “Sonoma Academy is patient. So obviously we wanted to make them rush as much as we can with our pressure.”

Pushing the pace on offense as well, St. Vincent found its shooting stroke from the outside – hitting on a trio of 3-pointers – and pounded the offensive boards for second and third shots inside in the first half. Leading the rebounding effort was Jenn Eastham, the Mustangs other senior, who scored off a put-back and hit a free throw to end the second period.

Spreading the scoring around again in the third quarter, St. Vincent pushed its advantage to 15 points. Carroll drove more and set up teammates on fast breaks and in the half court.

“She handles herself and the ball just real good under pressure,” Fagundes said.

Sophomores Jacalyn Murphy and Ursyla Baumgarten bolstered Carroll’s scoring and passing with rebounding and 14 points each on the night

“I have to help them mature as players and lead on the court,” Carroll said.

A more aggressive Sonoma Academy defense helped the Coyotes keep St. Vincent from running away. Bayes and Willow Gallagher helped lead fast breaks to create more open shots.

“We defend pretty well. That’s what has kept us winning,” said Sonoma Academy coach Kevin Christensen.

Sonoma Academy’s effort produced a fourth quarter rally with the Coyotes cutting the St. Vincent lead to six. This time the Coyotes were crashing the boards and getting multiple shots on offensive possessions, with Tori Gimpel joining Bayes and Gallagher in the rebounding push.

“We came out determined,” Bayes said.

Still, the Coyotes were in too deep a hole to claw all the way back.

Playing like a veteran team at the end, St. Vincent made six straight free throws to seal the win.

“This was a pretty tough game. We had more energy than last time,” Carroll said.