By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Poor shooting and rough starts haven’t slowed Santa Rosa Junior College’s climb up the state women’s basketball rankings, yet the Bear Cubs know well they can’t continue counting on strong finishes.
After a mostly sloppy opening half with Modesto on Tuesday, Santa Rosa attacked on both ends in pushing past the Pirates 59-35 at home to remain undefeated in Big 8 Conference play. Winning for the seventh straight game, Santa Rosa — ranked first in Northern California and third in the state — passed another test in the team’s quest for a California Community College Athletic Association title.
“We had a lot of fun out there,” said Madison Sowards, who came off the bench to score a game high 14. “Our first halves are always a little crazy. We’ve got to get going earlier. We’ve got to jump start and keep it going.”
Modesto kept Santa Rosa within reach in the first half with active defense that forced the Bear Cubs into difficult shots and turnovers. But the Pirates couldn’t hold down the Bear Cubs who reeled off several scoring runs with stifling defense producing scores in transition.
“We played well in the first half,” said Modesto coach Mike Girardi. “I can’t be too mad at our defense. We held Santa Rosa under their scoring average. But that was our worst offensive output of the year.”
Grinding out wins in one of the state’s toughest conferences demands depth and determination. Six of the Big 8 teams are among the top dozen in Northern California — three are ranked in the state top 20.
With all 11 Santa Rosa players getting significant minutes Tuesday, the Bear Cubs wore down another league foe. Effort, particularly with defensive help, has been Santa Rosa’s strength all season.
“Our depth allows us to stay fresh,” said Santa Rosa coach Lacey Campbell. “Players make the most of their time and ignore statistics.”
Depth was evident across the floor. Starting point guard Stephanie Sack, from Casa Grande, shares time with Taylor Graham, out of Maria Carrillo. Leading scorer Whitney Edens, from Cloverdale, yielded high-point honors Tuesday to Sowards, out of Maria Carrillo.
In the post, starters Arianna Hanson, from Rincon Valley Christian, and McKenzie Mangino, out of Ursuline, shared minutes with Anandi Jimenez, from Montgomery, and Erin Skinner, out of Rancho Cotate.
Hanson was strong inside with 10 points and Jimenez added 12.
“People have had to step up into different roles,” Edens said. “We definitely have the talent and teamwork.”
Consistent shooting has been Santa Rosa’s greatest challenge on the season. Santa Rosa needed more than ten minutes in Tuesday’s first half to reach double figures in scoring. Still, that was good enough to take a lead Santa Rosa would not give up the remainder of the contest.
Getting the Bear Cubs going was Hanson, who worked behind defenders for points in the post, and Soward, providing a spark off the bench.
Sharp shooting from Jode Honson, who led Modesto with 11, and Camille Roberts, who added 10, kept the Pirates within eight at the half.
Pushing the pace with stronger passing and better spacing produced an 11-0 run that helped Santa Rosa put away the game midway through the second half. Santa Rosa displayed an intensity the Bear Cubs want to play with for longer stretches.
“Every game, it’s getting way better. Tonight was good,” Sowards said.
Playing with more energy down low also helped Santa Rosa pull down more rebounds for second and third scoring chances.
What the Bear Cubs did well much of the game is play pressing, man-to-man defense. Speeding up Modesto led to turnovers and steals, keying Santa Rosa’s scoring runs.
The goal each game is holding opponents under 54 points. Tuesday’s win was the third straight to meet that standard.The win over Modesto marked the ninth contest for Santa Rosa against a team ranked in the state top 20. Playing a tough nonleague schedule and the always difficult conference slate should prepare Santa Rosa for another playoff run.
Last season Santa Rosa reached the final eight. Santa Rosa won the state title in 2011, a year after reaching the final four. The latest Bear Cubs squad wants to keep the winning going.
“We’re doing pretty good,” Edens said. “Our goal is going to state and winning it.”