By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It’s debatable whether Tuesday night’s Montgomery victory over visiting Casa Grande in the semifinal of the North Bay League girls basketball postseason tournament was a “revenge” win for the Vikings.
What is certain is that Montgomery’s 53-40 win sends the second-seeded Vikings (21-6) to the NBL tournament final at Santa Rosa Junior College at 6:30 p.m. Friday against top-seeded Santa Rosa, which defeated fourth-seed Maria Carrillo, 57-38, in Tuesday night’s other semifinal.
The Vikings and the Panthers won one game apiece during the NBL regular season. Santa Rosa won at home, 54-51, in the first matchup, and Montgomery won, 58-47, at home in the rematch.
Santa Rosa won the NBL regular season outright by one game over Montgomery after the Vikings were upset in their final regular season game at Casa Grande, 44-41.
The third-seeded Gauchos’ (15-12) home win on Feb. 7 was even more surprising since Montgomery won the first meeting with Casa Grande, 52-24.
“We were just pumped for this game from the last time we played Casa,” Montgomery’s Olivia Harris-Bloom said. “It was a revenge game.”
Neither coach concurred with Harris-Bloom when asked if the win for Montgomery was a revenge victory from last week.
“I will say that the girls were up for today,” Montgomery coach Steve Bell said. “I liked our effort. I liked our energy on the floor.”
Montgomery relied on its inside muscle to win the battle of the boards and rake in points on second-chance shots.
“The game was fairly physical, a lot of contact,” Casa Grande coach Dan Sack said. “And we are undersized at every position.”
Montgomery served notice early that there would be no Gauchos upset on this night. The Vikings raced to a 10-1 lead with 1:17 to play in the first quarter and never looked back.
“We have had trouble on the road getting off to slow starts. We weren’t communicating well defensively and that’s a breakdown on our part,” Sack said. “Montgomery made some adjustments offensively from the last game and they did a nice job with their cutters (to the basket).”
Montgomery led 10-6 at the end of the first quarter and 24-13 at halftime. Montgomery extended its lead to 33-17 with 1:29 to play in the third quarter. Casa Grande, however, stayed in the game by converting 3-point shots — seven overall to four for Montgomery.
The Gauchos’ Brooke Santander hit back-to-back 3s to pull Casa Grande within 33-23 with 51 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Santander is a good player. That is Casa’s game (hitting 3-pointers),” Bell said. “They try and break you down from the outside.”
Despite hanging around in the fourth quarter, Casa Grande could never mount a sustained comeback in the fourth quarter.
“We couldn’t go on that offensive run that we needed to cut into Montgomery’s lead,” Sack said. “(Montgomery) did a real nice job with their defense.”
Montgomery was led by sturdy post-player Claire Donnelly with 11 points. Angela Hess added 10 points.
“Holding Claire to 11 points is incredible,” Sack said of his undersized team.
Santander led all scorers with 20 points, including four 3-pointers.
“Santander can shoot,” Sack said. “She’s got inside and outside game.”
Lyndsey Murnin added 10 points for the Gauchos. Santander and Murnin combined for 75 percent of Casa Grande’s points. In the end it wasn’t enough as Montgomery was too tough on the boards and had a much more balanced scoring attack.
“We spread our points around. We have a lot of people contributing,” Bell said. “We created a lot of opportunities for ourselves tonight with our offensive rebounds.
“When the shots are falling it is always easy, isn’t it?” Bell added with a smile.