By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
HEALDSBURG — After missing 17 straight shots in her team’s last game, Willits guard Alicia Mehtlan was determined to do much better against Rancho Cotate in Wednesday night’s opening-round game of the REIBT Tournament.
The senior not only improved her shooting, she scored 24 points and led the Wolverines to a 50-39 victory.
In the other girls opening round game, Healdsburg defeated Middletown, 35-34.
In the boys bracket, Rincon Valley Christian edged Ukiah, 64-60, in overtime and Marin Catholic handled Willits, 60-51.
Mehtlan said she purged thoughts of last Saturday’s game against Cardinal Newman before she took the court against Rancho.
While unable to make a basket, her team lost by a point.
“I knew the worst thing I could do was to put negative thoughts in my head,” she said. “I came out like this was a new game and the past was the past.”
Mehtlan didn’t have to wait long before seeing one of her shots go through the hoop. She nailed a pair of free throws two minutes into the game.
And she kept on scoring, hitting seven-of-16 from the field and nine-of-15 from the foul line.
A majority of her points came from in close, off a left-handed dribble.
“Rancho didn’t think I could take the ball to the basket with my left hand,” Mehtlan said. “They were overplaying me big time on my right. So, I just took it to the basket with my left hand time after time. They never adjusted their defense.”
As far as school size, this was a David vs. Goliath match-up. Willits has an enrollment of 534 while Rancho has 1,520 students. The Wolves play in North Central League I while the Cougars are members of the large-school North Bay League.
In the first quarter, it looked like the big school would prevail. The Cougars led 18-8 with a minute to go. Mehtlan then nailed a 3-pointer and Kellie Elder scored on a layup to narrow the gap.
“We had dead legs that first quarter,” said Eric Mehtlan, the Wolverines coach and Alicia’s father. “We usually press the entire game, but we were a step slow on defense and they scored 18 on us.”
Willits came out with more energy in the second stanza and held the Cougars to six points. Mehtlan’s layup just before halftime gave her team a 26-24 lead.
The Wolves took advantage of careless Rancho ball handling to go up 42-29 at the end of three. The lead stayed at double digits in the final quarter.
The Cougars turned the ball over 17 times in the second half.
“We need to play much better defense and cut down on turnovers,” Rancho coach Doug Haught said. “We played pretty well in the first half, but took our lumps after that.”
The Cougars were without Keilani Fronda, one of their best players. She tore a finger ligament in practice and is sidelined for the month.
Rancho is 1-2 while Willits improved to 2-2.
The REIBT, which is being renewed for the 64th time, is the oldest tournament in Northern California.
Eight boys teams and eight girls teams are participating. Games continue through Saturday.