By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Gambling on defense and commitment to rebounding carried the Sonoma Academy girls past St. Vincent and kept the Coyotes in the league lead Tuesday.
Another physical, tight contest between the NCL II rivals was largely decided by Sonoma Academy’s poise under pressure. Taking the lead with a late first period run, the Coyotes withstood a pair of St. Vincent comebacks, making enough free throws to hold on for the 45-39 road win.
“We knew they were going to come at us hard. We knew we had to jump on them from the start,” said Willow Gallagher, a defensive stopper for Sonoma Academy. “This win was pretty big.”
St. Vincent was motivated following an earlier loss to Sonoma Academy and playing the last regular season home game. While the Mustangs twice tied the contest, St. Vincent was undone by sometimes sloppy play and inconsistent shooting over the Coyotes zone defense.
“We had problems reading their defense. That was pretty frustrating,” said Ursyla Baumgarten, who led St. Vincent with 18 points. “But we still fought. We will bounce back like always.”
With the win, Sonoma Academy held onto first place in league play. Coming into the season, the Coyotes’ goal was to unseat defending champion St. Vincent.
In a deeper NCL II this season, most league contests have been rugged affairs.
Tuesday’s game was no different.
Both squads struggled to score in the first half with the defenses forcing more turnovers than these teams are accustomed to making.
Many possessions ended up with players in scrums battling for loose balls.
“We tend to gamble a bit defensively. This is because we are an athletic and quick team, especially at the guard position,” said Sonoma Academy coach Kevin Christensen.
Long armed Gallagher and relentless Savannah Stoughton extend the Sonoma Academy zone defense with strong guard play. When not snagging steals, the pair is good at deflecting passes and causing turnovers.
Man to man defense has been St. Vincent’s strength as the young team — no seniors — continues improving with the ball.
“We’re a pretty good defensive team. The players have been consistent all year,” said St. Vincent coach Jim Fagundes.
Enough scoring balance inside and out helped Sonoma Academy stay ahead much of the night. Gallagher led in the first half and tall, fast Kiana Herold paced the Coyotes in the final two periods. Herold let the Coyotes with 16 – half on free throws – with Gallagher scoring 15.
Steady work by freshman guard Chloe Colbert and strong post play from Tori Gimpel also keyed the road win. “We’re totally coming together and working better together,” Gallagher said.
When the Mustangs narrowed the deficit, they were driving through gaps in the zone or kicking out passes for open shots.
Shooting guard Grace Jennings helped St. Vincent stay close. She scored half of her 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“We have to move the ball well and rebound. Then we get more possessions and more shots,” Baumgarten said.
After seeing their lead narrowed to three points, Sonoma Academy finished the game with clutch free throw shooting to prevail in Petaluma.