NCS girls basketball: Big run sinks Casa Grande in title game


DUBLIN — Pretty good at getting pumped up before games, Casa Grande was calm in dictating playing terms to Carondelet for long stretches in Friday’s section championship contest.

A top 10 state girls squad, Carondelet isn’t accustomed to trailing, let alone at halftime.

But one sustained scoring spree carried Carondelet to a 60-45 win and another North Coast Section Division 2 championship.

“That’s a good team. But we knew we could play with them,” Casa Grande point guard Stephanie Sack said. “We kept our composure and battled to the end.”

The talent and tenacity Casa Grande displayed on the Dublin High court should serve the Gauchos well in next week’s NorCal half of the state playoffs.

Carondelet also comes away a better team following what for the Cougars was a close contest.

“That was a very challenging test. Casa Grande played excellent,” said Hannah Huffman, Carondelet’s standout forward. “We needed to be able to adapt to a tough playoff atmosphere.”

To make Carondelet work four quarters for the win, Casa Grande passed through the Cougars’ notorious press, worked patiently to get Gretchen Harrigan open for a game-high 30 points, and played tough team defense.

Casa Grande took its first lead at 6-5 on a Harrigan score off a fast break and led by a basket after one quarter.

“We played our hearts out to get here. We wanted to win this game,” Harrigan said.

Defense was a big difference in gaining the lead. Casa Grande was getting back to slow the speedy Cougars and matching up on passers and shooters to limit Carondelet’s open looks at the basket.

“It takes a team effort, that’s for sure. We’ve kept some very good teams in check,” Casa Grande coach Dan Sack said.

None of those teams was better than Carondelet.

Yet the Gauchos were no one-hit wonder.

Even better in the second period, Casa Grande continued to find gaps in the Carondelet defense for good shots, including a fast-break bucket by Sack and a smooth swish on a midrange jumper by Lyndsey Murnin.

“You need to have players who understand spacing and have vision. You have to find the open player,” Dan Sack said.

The Gauchos’ goals were to slow down Carondelet, limit their possessions, and stay close to on the boards. Accomplishing the first two put Casa Grande ahead.

“Their guards have skills and can pass and if they can find that open shooter and make shots; they match up well with us,” Gartner said.

A decided rebounding advantage, particularly on the offensive end, kept Carondelet close. Better at boxing out and following shots, the Cougars were hungry for the ball and to go back ahead.

That the Cougars did, but for only one possession. Casa Grande answered and took a 26-24 halftime lead.

“It was a close game and that’s what we wanted,” Stephanie Sack said.

Much like a cornered cat, the Cougars clawed back and went for the kill.

“We needed to keep faith and keep pushing,” Huffman said.

After four Harrigan free throws put Casa Grande ahead by six points, Carondelet went on a blistering 20-2 run to close the third quarter.

Fronting the Gauchos better to deny passes, the Cougars snagged three steals and forced a pair of turnovers.

“When we play really good defense, we’re tough to beat,” Carondelet coach Margaret Gartner said.

Point guard Natalie Romeo scored 9 of her 11 on the night to help break open the game. A pair of baskets came on fast breaks, another on a 3-pointer, and she added two free throws. Sharpshooter Makenzie Cast worked to get open for a pair of 3-pointers and had a team high 15 on the night.

While the Gauchos mostly stayed out of a track meet with the Cougars, a cold stretch of Casa Grande shooting helped fuel Carondelet’s decisive run.

“It was a combination of their defense stepped up and we got tired,” said Harrigan, who had a number of shots roll out in the second half that fell in the first two periods.

Trailing by a dozen entering the final period, Casa Grande couldn’t do more than trade baskets and Carondelet made more free throws to close the contest.

Disappointed in losing a game they led, the Gauchos are primed for the NorCal playoffs.

“We just have to keep a positive outlook,” Stephanie Sack said. “We’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or Get more coverage of Empire high school sports at

NCS Division 2 girls basketball championship

Casa Grande      15           11           6              13           —             45         
Carondelet         13           11           20           16           —             60      
CG: Gretchen Harrigan 30, Lyndsey Murnin 9, Stephanie Sack 6.
C: Cassandra Re 2, Katherine Luther 9, Makenzie Cast 15, Lauren Nicolosi 6, Hannah Huffman 13, Gabriella Grupalo 2, Natalie Romeo 11, Melissa Russi 2.
Notable: Harrigan had 15 rebounds … Sack had eight assists.
Records: CG 30-2; C 27-3