Padecky: Gauchos wake up just in time

PETALUMA

The seconds became minutes and the minutes started to sneak up and eat up the fourth quarter and, boom, before they knew it, there it was, a rout now was a close game. What happened to the Casa girls Wednesday happens quite frequently to any team in any sport that has climbed to a comfortable and safe lead.

The comfortable and safe lead becomes uncomfortable and unsafe because the temptation to relax is huge, as if the mountain already has been climbed; consider it a false summit. And to see a team relax, as Sacramento’s Florin watched Casa back off the throttle, is like opening a door. And the Florin player said, well, if they are going to keep it open, let’s walk through it.

“We became statues instead of defenders,” said Casa coach Dan Sack. “We were playing to hang on.”

One could see how that temptation would occur. With 2:48 left Gretchen Harrigan had an uncontested fast break layup and missed it. But she got the rebound, put it in and was fouled. So the groans turned to cheers, a two-point play became a three-point, and yes, it wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion Casa was living large and everything was headed the Gauchos way. The lead was 53-41 with 2:48 left and Casa was cruising.

But then Casa missed its next four shots from the field, turned the ball over twice and now that 53-41 Casa lead with 2:48 left now was whittled to two points, 54-52, and Florin had the ball.
“I didn’t want this season to be over,” said Casa sophomore guard Brooke Santander.

Of such simple phrases great things can be accomplished — and even greater things revealed. Casa was through hanging on, relaxing, waiting for the game clock to decide the game. Santander stepped up, literally. She stole the in-bounds Florin pass with 1.9 seconds left in the game.
“I thought I better make my free throw,” Santander said.

Make just one foul shot and Florin has 1.9 seconds to drive the length of the floor to shoot a three-pointer to tie. That’s a high percentage failure. Santander made it and 1.9 seconds later a Florin near-full-court football-throw shot fell 20 feet short. Game over. Casa moves on to Saturday to play St. Ignatius in San Francisco.

“I have said all season this team has found ways to win,” said Sack of his 31-2 Gauchos. “Well, tonight they found a way to hold on. We have had games in which teams have made runs at us but it never got down to a last possession type of thing.”`
And while Sack didn’t want to minimize last week’s loss to Carondelet in the NCS Finals, he admitted the Carondelet defeat didn’t have a finality to it. This one did.

“This was an elimination game,” Sack said. “There was more pressure in this game.”
And the pressure, Sack is happy to say, didn’t have in his girls. If anything, when it was fight or flight, they stepped up and didn’t knuckle under. All of which lead to the next question.

“How do you think St. Ignatius will look at this game tonight? Look at how you played in the first half? Or look at how you gave up a 16-point lead, only to win it in the last seconds.”

St. Ignatius coaches were in the stands Wednesday night and filmed the game. Sack paused a moment before answering.
“I think they will say to themselves, ‘They (Casa) have a small guard, we don’t have to worry about that player,’” Sack said. “I think they’ll say, ‘They have a small forward and we don’t have to worry about that player either’.”

And of course Sack will do nothing to discourage such assumptions. In fact, he even joked after the game when someone asked him why he doesn’t run some post (inside) plays.

“What post plays?” Sack said. “We don’t have a post player.”

All he has are players who share the ball, share the ego, and, especially, share the turnovers. Santander got credit for the last one, Casa’s 22nd of the game, the one that mattered most and as Sack’s girls will tell you, there’s nothing small about that.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.