By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa’s girls basketball team played some of its worst ball of the season through three quarters Tuesday night, but found the spark in the fourth to defeat Dougherty Valley 54-42 in an opening round Division 1 North Coast Section playoff game.
The No. 6 seeded Panthers advance to quarterfinals and will travel to No. 3 Monte Vista (21-5) on Friday.
In the second quarter, it looked like the North Bay League champs would check out in the first round as they fell behind 23-14 with 2:50 left in the period.
Despite still playing subpar in the opening minutes after intermission, the Panthers began chipping away at No. 11 Dougherty Valley’s advantage. They took the lead for good, 32-31, on Katie Daly’s 3-pointer with a minute remaining in the quarter.
That began a 9-0 run and put the game safely in the Santa Rosa win column.
Sophomore Devin Murray, who scored eight of her game-high 23 in the fourth, said nerves were the reason for Santa Rosa’s shaky start.
“I’ve never seen us play as bad as we did in the first half and nearly all of the third quarter,” the 6-foot-2 forward said.
“The whole NCS thing had us hyped up. We rushed shots, turned the ball over and missed defensive assignments. It was pretty horrible.”
After Daly hit her team’s only 3-pointer late in the third, Alison Wendler and Murray closed out the quarter with baskets.
Six-foot-4 Morgan Bertsch completed the 9-0 run with a basket 20 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“When Dougherty Valley got up nine, we were definitely scared,” Bertsch said. “We were playing like we were frazzled.
“It just seemed like whatever we were doing wasn’t working and then we got even more frustrated.”
Coach Steve Chisholm was mystified about the way his team played in the first half.
“Our trend this season was to start strong,” he said. “In this game, we began real slow and finished strong.
“I just kept reminding the girls that they had to fight hard to win the game and in the fourth quarter, they played like they’re capable of playing.”
The Panthers outscored Dougherty Valley 31-17 in the second half.
One key to the outcome was foul shooting. The Wildcats could make only 7-of-22 while Santa Rosa connected on 13-of-16.
Each team turned the ball over 16 times.
“We went to a full-court press when we began hitting a few shots and they turned the ball over and gave us some easy baskets,” Chisholm said. “That enabled us to open the lead.”
Bertsch scored 15 to join Murray in double figures. Maddie Taylor came off the bench to contribute eight.
Jordan Turner led Dougherty Valley with 13, one more than Jasmine Jenkins.
The team from the Diablo Foothill League ends its season 14-13. One of those wins was a 44-43 victory over Santa Rosa on Dec. 19 in Santa Rosa.
Murray didn’t play in that game.
Santa Rosa has won all 12 of its home games and plays on with a 23-6 record.