CIF State Championships: Casa holds off Florin


PETALUMA — For a few minutes, the gym seemed to be crashing in upon the Casa Grande girls. Their comfy lead — as many as 16 points in the third quarter, and a healthy 12 points with less than three minutes left in the game — was nibbled to two points when Florin junior Daijah Joe-Smith scored on a barely contested layup with 10 seconds left. Then Casa’s Lyndsey Murnin missed the front end of a one-and-one, and elimination stared the Gauchos right in the face.

As usual, they didn’t blink.

Sophomore Brook Santander stole a Florin pass and hit her first bonus free throw with 1.9 seconds remaining, and Casa Grande escaped with a 55-52 victory Wednesday, advancing to face St. Ignatius of San Francisco in the second round of the CIF State Division 2 Basketball Championships.

The Panthers’ comeback stunned a partisan Casa crowd. Star power forward Gretchen Harrigan put the Gauchos up 53-41 with 2:48 left when she turned her miss on an easy layup into an advantage, grabbing the rebound, scoring and adding a free throw after getting fouled.

Then Casa Grande inexplicably stopped scoring. At the same time, Joe-Smith, Florin’s top scorer, got hot. She scored half of her 20 points in the final 2:10, including a couple of baskets off of turnovers.

“I think we ended early. We kind of thought we had it,” said Harrigan, a senior. “We got a little lackadaisical.”

The Gauchos had the ball and a 53-46 lead with 23 seconds on the clock. But Joe-Smith stole the ball and scored, picking up a foul on Murnin. Joe-Smith missed the ensuing free throw, but rebounded her own shot and put the ball right back in the net to cut the score to 53-50, setting up the late-game theatrics.

Casa Grande got a bit tentative in the late stages of the game, making things scary for the home fans. But Gauchos coach Dan Sack said he never felt things slipping away, because he had an ace up his sleeve. Harrigan had gone to the bench with her fourth foul at the 1:49 mark.

“I’m thinking this could get really close at the end, or even go to overtime,” Sack said. “I wanted to wait as long as I could, and I brought her back with 20 seconds. But I still felt we had control of the game. They needed another possession. And I had Gretchen pining away on the bench.”

The visiting Panthers set the tempo with their aggressiveness, and the two teams combined for 41 turnovers — 22 by Florin and 19 by the Gauchos. Casa quickly found itself down 6-0 just a couple minutes into the game, with all of the Florin baskets set up by steals.

After getting their bearings, though, Casa Grande took command of the game with crisp ball movement and bursts of outside shooting.

The Gauchos are a better team when they have a third scorer to complement Harrigan and senior point guard Stephanie Sack. Wednesday, they found their girl in junior Lexie Schloetter.

In a loss to Carondelet last Friday in the North Coast Section Division 2 final, Schloetter had passed up an open 3-pointer from the wing, and had admitted to Dan Sack later that her nerves had gotten the better of her.

After watching Florin play in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs last week, and after seeing the Panthers on film, Sack noticed that the opponent’s frenetic 2-3 zone defense tended to leave the weakside wing open. “Lexie, you’re gonna have a big night,” he told Schloetter Wednesday.

He was right. Schloetter, with the signature sky-high arc she developed using a training system that forced her to shoot over a net and into the basket, drained a pair of treys at the end of the first quarter and another to start the second, helping Casa Grande turn an 8-2 deficit into a 16-10 lead.

Schloetter closed out the half by hitting three free-throw attempts after getting fouled on a 3-point shot. All of her 12 points came in the first half, complementing Harrigan’s game-high 24 and Stephanie Sack’s 14. Harrigan led the Gauchos (31-2) with eight rebounds, and Sack had seven assists. The coach’s daughter also had two impressive blocks, both from behind on hustle plays to thwart fast-break opportunities for Florin.

Joe-Smith led the Panthers (24-6) with 20 points. Sophomore forward Delayna Sampton scored 12, and junior guard Deja Conger added 11.

Casa plays at St. Ignatius on Saturday night.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or