By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Friday night had a little bit of everything at the “Barn” — the affectionate name for the Sonoma Academy basketball gym — in the season finale to decide the champ of the North Central League II.
The game was a frenetic contest won by host Sonoma Academy 41-36 over Roseland University Prep. The win gives the Coyotes (20-3, 13-1) sole possession of the regular season title in the NCL II, while the Knights (17-7, 11-3) finished in second place.
“It feels great for the girls. The last two years we have come in second place,” Sonoma Academy coach Kevin Christensen said. “It feels good to win the league outright.”
Both teams have a first round bye Tuesday in the six-team NCL II postseason tournament at St. Vincent and will see their first action in Thursday’s semifinals.
The evening was filled with off-the-court happenings. Before the game, the Coyotes honored their five seniors. In the second quarter, the game was temporarily halted as a soccer ball rolled onto the court. Then with the teams ready to start the third quarter the game was on hold for a short time due to a delay by the referees coming back to the court. Finally, there was a carnival style atmosphere throughout with a raffle for prizes being awarded over the public address system.
The game was plenty entertaining in its own right. It was a fast-paced affair with huge first half scoring runs by both teams, and a cadre of fast breaks, turnovers and bodies crashing into each other fighting for rebounds.
“We tried to get them (RUP) in an up-and-down the court game to get easy shots on offense,” Christensen said. “Roseland is a really good veteran team — they made it hard for us.”
After trailing 2-0 in the first minute, Sonoma Academy went on a 15-0 run over the next five minutes to lead 15-2 with 1:50 to play in the first quarter
“It’s disappointing (losing the game to come in second place),” RUP coach Laura Barcenas said. “That (15-0 run by the Coyotes) didn’t help us.”
Leading 20-4 early in the second quarter, the Coyotes went cold and the Knights went on a scoring streak of their own. After a 15-2 RUP burst in the final seven minutes of the second quarter Sonoma Academy led 22-19 at halftime.
“We had a chance to put the game away in the first half and our turnovers killed us. Their (RUP) pressure was getting to us,” Christensen said. “We have had some scoring droughts and scoring binges this year. It has been feast or famine.”
Even with RUP collecting piles of offensive rebounds the Knights could never get over the hump and retake the lead. Sonoma Academy won the third quarter 14-10 to hold a 36-29 edge with eight minutes to play. The fourth quarter was marked by turnovers, and missed shots, especially by the Knights. The Coyotes held on to win by outscoring the Knights seven to five in the fourth quarter.
“We had too many missed opportunities. We couldn’t put anything back in the basket (off of offensive rebounds),” Barcenas said. “Sonoma Academy did a good job defensively inside. They are a good team.”
On senior night the Coyotes were paced by a sophomore, Savannah Stoughton, who led all scorers with 19 points. Stoughton had clutch back-to-back 3-pointers in the third quarter to keep the Coyotes’ cushion at 10 points. Kiana Herold added 10 points for Sonoma Academy.
“Stoughton is just lights-out shooting, whether it is 3-point shooting or going to the basket,” Christensen said.
RUP was led by Jaque Melendez, who scored 14 points and stole the ball numerous times.
“She (Melendez) was the focus of our defense coming in,” Christensen said. “She is a very good player. I knew she was dangerous.”
“Jaque started off slow in the first quarter but was fine after that,” Barcenas said. “She was good when she penetrated.”
The Coyotes held a seven to two advantage in three-point shots converted. Sonoma Academy was six-for-13 from the free throw line while RUP was two-for-four.
Sonoma Academy won both games versus RUP during the regular season. The Coyotes won 49-38 at RUP in mid-January.