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Padecky: Playoff loss is valuable learning experience for young Mustangs

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SAN ANSELMO — St. Vincent’s Maddie Perry was with the basketball Saturday night, standing near her team’s bench, looking for someone to receive her pass. San Domenico’s Sasha Nagler was approaching Perry and she was clearly visible but somehow Nagler was invisible to Perry. Nagler just took the ball for Perry’s hands. Actually ripped it from Perry’s grip. Would have been a great pickpocket move except it was a basketball that was picked.

And another moment in which St. Vincent wish it had back for a do-over. Except there were no mulligans this night for St. Vincent. Oh, that the Mustang girls would want back those 21 turnovers and that 24 percent field goal percentage (11-of-45). Oh, that they could find a way to stop the thick and aggressive Elyzah Bernstein of San Domenico from bumping them out of the way. Oh, that there would be a lot of things they could change, especially the final score: San Domenico 45, St. Vincent 32.

Jim Fagundes, the St. Vincent coach, had seen his team play like this during the regular season, a young team that got a little too hyper, unfocused and, subsequently, unraveled.

“But it’s been three to four weeks since we played like this,” Fagundes said. “We had been playing really well.”

There were plenty of times Saturday night in the Division 5 NCS quarterfinal that Fagundes said to his team, “Calm down. Play defense.” There were plenty of times St. Vincent showed it didn’t have a senior on the roster, a veteran hand that could have cooled all those very excited and determined underclassmen.

While they have been much discussion as to what came first, the chicken or the egg, it was clear Saturday night what came first, poor shooting, followed by the turnovers. St. Vincent led, 12-9, after the first quarter. But the Mustangs fell into a horrendous shooting slump in the second quarter, hitting only two for 13 field goal attempts and that three-point lead at the end of the first quarter turned into a six-point deficit by halftime.

That’s when St. Vincent’s youth decided to play catch up the hard way. In fact, it might be described as impossible. They played as if they were trying to erase that six-point lead with just one possession, with a single field goal. But there are no six-point field goals in basketball and in the frenzied fury to stop San Domenico, St. Vincent just made it easier to control the game.

Passes were forced into traffic when no one was open. Shots were taken off balance. Good shots were taken in the hopes of an even better one.

“Those turnovers were similar to the one we worked on all year,” Fagundes said. “They were thicker and bigger and that had something to do with it, too.”

Fagundes was given good reason to think his team had gone past that speed bump. After all, a month-long stretch has seen St. Vincent lose that helter-skelter pace. But this is the NCS and playoff basketball, no matter what level, carries its own special cache of being another season. The girls knew it, rose to another level and Fagundes will never fault them for that.

“I am never disappointed in how hard they play,” he said. “The effort has always been there. As a coach that’s all I can ask and expect. They come to play every game.”

In recent weeks the Mustangs have had as many as four players in double figures. Saturday night it was just one: Ursyla Baumgarten with 12 points. Rebecca Dodele had eight. San Domenico’s Bernstein had 21.

No matter that it ended the way it did, this fact can not be ignored: St. Vincent finished its season with a 21-9 and without a senior on its team. There’s a future out there for this group and this season provided a strong hint of what is to come.

“I like the way we improved all season,” Fagundes said. “We were getting better and better, really growing together. It was a pleasure to coach them. Now we are going to take it from here, work together during the summer and be ready when school starts.”

While St. Vincent didn’t make this trip to a pastoral corner of Marin County just to lose, Fagundes wanted to remind himself and the girls he coaches that a healthy perspective is in order.

“My only real disappointment,” Fagundes said, “is that I can’t wake up tomorrow morning and go to practice with them. I loved coaching them.”

The pleasure, Jim Fagundes was saying, was in the journey, a body of work that was represented by more than just one game. That’s why they call it a season.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.