NCL II girls basketball championship: Sonoma Academy pulls out miracle win

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma Academy’s Kate Bayes scored 38 points Friday night, but it was a shot she missed that saved the game.

St. Vincent led by four points when Sonoma Academy inbounded the ball with 8.9 seconds left in regulation. Bayes hurried the ball up the court and was fouled hoisting up a desperation 3-point shot.

The final buzzer went off seconds after Bayes was fouled. One second was put back on the clock before the senior went to the line for three free throws. She made the first two shots to cut the Mustangs’ lead to two points.

Bayes intentionally missed the third free throw. Teammate Tori Gimpel raced in, grabbed the rebound and scored to tie the game 49-49 and force overtime.

Sonoma Academy’s Savannah Stoughton sandwiched four free throws around a Bayes hoop in the final seconds of the extra period to lift the host Coyotes to a 58-56 win in the North Central League II girls basketball tournament championship game.

“I’d missed some free throws early in the game, so I was afraid I’d make the one I wanted to miss,” said Bayes, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter. “I just tried to skim it off the back of the rim so we’d know which way the ball would go. Tori did an amazing job to get the rebound and score.”

The game did go into overtime, but Sonoma Academy will remember snapping St. Vincent’s 18-game winning streak for the one second it took Gimpel to get the ball in her hands and, then, the ball into the basket.

“I just went as hard and as fast as I could for it,” Gimpel said after getting to Bayes’ intentional miss without a Mustang player even touching her. “I got lucky. We were lucky. Everything just went perfectly. Kate was trying to miss. She knew what to do. I was just working my hardest.”

The Coyotes will enter the North Coast Section tournament with a 23-2 record, with the only losses having come against St. Vincent. The Mustangs, the regular-season NCL II champions, are now 23-5.

“This game will help us entering the playoffs,” said St. Vincent senior guard Shannon Carroll, who finished with 13 points. “We needed to play a game like this with playoff intensity, that was close at the end. We made some stupid mistakes, but we’re excited heading into the playoffs.”

St. Vincent trailed at halftime, but appeared to blow the game open in the third quarter. Carroll, Jenn Eastham and Grace

Jennings each hit 3-pointers. Ursyla Baumgartner cut to the hoop to score and give the Mustangs a 32-22 lead with 47 seconds left in the period.

Bayes, who scored 11 in the first half, made her only basket of the third quarter in the final seconds to trim the lead and set up her stunning fourth-quarter outburst.

“If we get locked into a halfcourt game, we don’t do well. We’re not a big team,” Bayes said. “They got us in a halfcourt game in the third quarter. When we get a team in transition, we’re going to score. And, we got it into a transition game in the fourth quarter.”

Even with Bayes slicing through the St. Vincent defense to the rim or pulling up for perimeter hoops, her drive and score off the glass that cut the margin to 40-38 was followed by Carroll’s 3-pointer. After two free throws trimmed the Coyotes’ deficit to three points, Jennings drained a 3-point shot and it was still 46-40 with 3:11 remaining in the game.

Jennings led the Mustangs with 14 points and her long-range shot seemed to finish the Coyotes.

“The girls were frustrated,” said Sonoma Academy head coach Kevin Christensen. “I talked to them during a timeout and Kate, especially, was frustrated. I just told them they had to keep playing and that they had time to come back. That kind of got them focused.”

It took belief beyond reason for the Coyotes not to hang their heads after Eastham’s 3-pointer put St. Vincent up six points with 1:19 left on the clock.

“We came together as a team. We all gave everything we had,” Gimpel said. “It felt like we were going to lose, but we didn’t give up.”

Bayes hit a 3-pointer from two steps beyond the arc with 58 seconds to play. The Coyotes’ trailed 48-45.

St. Vincent came up with a Maddie Perry free throw in two possessions to extend the lead to four points with 8.9 seconds left.

Bayes shot the desperation 3-pointer from the wing just as a St. Vincent defender bumped her. While the clock did run out, it should’ve stopped immediately when the foul was called. Instead, Bayes’ shot fell short of the rim, hit the ground and bounced out of bounds before the buzzer sounded. Thus, time was rightly put back on the clock to allow Bayes and Gimpel to make magic.

“It was a good game by two closely-matched teams,” said St. Vincent head coach Jim Fagundes. “It came down to making plays at the end of the game.”

St. Vincent did have one last chance in OT. Collins had the ball headed toward the right wing with a defender on her. Bayes jumped out to double-team from behind, stole the ball and time ran out.

“I’ve never been so ecstatic in my life,” Bayes said after collecting the championship trophy.