By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
If there was any wonder how truly important Santa Rosa point guard Katie Daly is to the Panthers girls’ basketball team, Tuesday night demonstrated it in stark terms.
While Daly only had nine points in Santa Rosa’s 53-48 win over visiting Casa Grande, it was Daly’s ball handling skills and calming influence that Santa Rosa (20-5, 11-2) could not do without against the Gauchos (14-11, 8-5).
The win keeps the Panthers tied with Montgomery for first place in the North Bay League with one game to go.
Santa Rosa hosts Cardinal Newman on Thursday in its league finale.
Casa Grande is battling for third place and finishes out its NBL regular season at Montgomery on Thursday.
With Daly at the helm, Santa Rosa broke out to a 25-9 lead with 3:58 to play in the second quarter.
Then Daly had to sit some of the second quarter and almost all of third after getting her fourth personal foul with 7:04 to play in the third quarter.
“We came out flat. Our shots weren’t going in and we got a little bit down,” Casa Grande coach Dan Sack said.
“We looked to press them (Santa Rosa) on and off all game but we pressed more when we saw Katie was out. As a junior, Daly is one of the top point guards in the league.”
Casa Grande took advantage of Daly’s absence and narrowed Santa Rosa’s halftime lead to 29-20.
With Daly out most of the third quarter, the Panthers needed a compass to navigate the ball out of their backcourt and seemed lost without Daly’s steady hand guiding them.
There was a sequence in the third quarter where the Gauchos stole the ball from Santa Rosa in six of seven Panther possessions after Daly went to the bench.
Casa Grande had 15 steals total for the game.
“We went through a little spurt there when we turned the ball over,” Santa Rosa coach Steve Chisholm said. “In the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter we got a little timid. We were trying to force the ball and were making bad decisions.”
By the time Daly came back into the game with 6:24 to play in the fourth quarter, Casa Grande had whittled the Panthers lead down to 43-41. The Gauchos eventually tied the game at 46-46 with 2:56 to play but were never able to forge ahead.
“Our girls got tired in the fourth quarter,” Chisholm said. “But our defense stepped up in the end.”
Santa Rosa ultimately pulled out the game by scoring seven of the final nine points.
“We just couldn’t get that final basket to put us on top,” Sack said. “I don’t think we ran out of gas at the end, we just couldn’t hit the shots.”
Santa Rosa converted five of six free throws in the final two minutes and was 12-for-15 from the line for the night.
By contrast, Casa Grande shot only four-for-11 from the free throw line. Santa Rosa was led by Morgan Bertsch in the post with 15 points.
Devin Murray added 12 points and Kylie Oden chipped in 11 points, including hitting three three-point shots.
Casa Grande was paced by Brooke Santander, who led all scorers with 17 points. Lyndsey Murmin added 10 points.
In the first meeting between the Panthers and Gauchos at Casa Grande, Santa Rosa fell 66-41 and was victimized by 13 3-pointers by Casa Grande.
In the rematch on Tuesday, Santa Rosa allowed only two 3-pointers by the Gauchos while converting five of its own. “Our defensive game plan was a little different tonight than the first game,” Chisholm said. “We didn’t want Casa to beat us with threes so we extended the perimeter of our defense.”
While the Gauchos were denied the three, Casa Grande was able to score points in the paint from penetration and offensive rebounds. “If you come out and cover our shooters it should open up the middle,” Sack said. “We got to the rim and that got Daly in foul trouble.”
Chisholm said Santa Rosa was fortunate to have built such a big lead in the first half otherwise the ending might have been happy for the Gauchos instead of the Panthers. “Casa is a really good team,” Chisholm said. “They do really well on the dribble-drive penetration.”