By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A veteran Sonoma Academy team playing better together put on a come-from-behind clinic to defeat Roseland University Prep in an Empire small school girls basketball showdown Tuesday.
Shutting down the Knights in allowing just one fourth-quarter point, the Coyotes dug out of a double-digit deficit and won going away, 49-38. The win leaves Sonoma Academy the only undefeated team in NCL II play.
“We definitely picked it up on defense and rebounding. That helped us get out and run,” said Kiana Herold, who scored a dozen of her 19 points in the final period. “We knew they were coming out strong this year. So we had a lot of motivation for the game.”
Roseland Prep was the team running out to a big lead for much of the first half and still led by 10 after three periods. Then the Knights lost a step on defense and stalled with the ball as Sonoma Academy’s pressing defense helped spark the Coyotes’ comeback.
“We’re both very similar, smart teams. That makes it difficult on both teams,” said Roseland Prep point guard Jaque Melendez. “We know we can handle pressure. It’s all about playing four quarters.”
Matching up well at both ends with aggressive defenses and fast-break styles, the team that handled pressure better and made shots figured to win.
Each squad won a pair of quarters. The difference was Sonoma Academy’s dominance in the final period.
“It was definitely our best team quarter. We didn’t give up,” said center Tori Gimpel, who with Herold controlled the boards at both ends.
The Coyotes’ leading scorer on the season, Willow Gallagher opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer. Gallagher later scored off a Savannah Stoughton steal to tie the contest. Herold, playing point guard in the period, scored in the post for the first Sonoma Academy lead and the Coyotes would not be stopped.
“We were really passing well and attacking. We were taking better shots,” Herold said.
Spreading the floor on offense, Sonoma Academy set up strong drives and sure kick-out passes for open shots. Playing zone defense much of the game, Sonoma Academy was quicker in the second half, helping on the ball and closing at shooters.
“Our team has been playing well defensively. We get a lot of steals in our defense which we turn into points in transition,” said Sonoma Academy coach Kevin Christensen.
For most of three quarters, Roseland Prep was the team with the stifling defense and fast-break scoring. Keeping the Coyotes’ defense honest with enough 3-pointers helped the Knights control the game for long stretches.
“We’ve been playing more consistently this year. We’ve got some good experience,” said Roseland Prep coach Laura Barcenas.
The high-low combination of the slashing Melendez and sharp-shooting Beatriz Oseguera was complemented by different players stepping up. Oseguera led the Knights with 14 points. Stephanie Martinez was active down low. Liz Nunez kept Roseland Prep ahead with seven third-quarter points.
Withstanding two sustained Sonoma Academy rallies, Roseland Prep couldn’t answer the final scoring run. Turnovers and tough shots thwarted any comeback hopes.
“We’re used to being the underdogs. We’ve got to turn it up again,” Melendez said.
Having lost the first of two league games with Sonoma Academy, however, doesn’t settle anything between the well-matched teams. Roseland Prep and Sonoma Academy also have close wins over St. Vincent.
“This is a great year on top of the NCL II,” Christensen said. “All three teams are capable of beating each other on any given night.”