By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Reminded of the premium on defense in the postseason, Montgomery turned up the pressure and turned around the Vikings’ first-round girls Nor Cal playoff contest Wednesday.
Trailing early in the second quarter, Montgomery extended its defense, jumped passing lanes, and swarmed Pleasant Valley, holding the visitors to a single score, near the end of the first half. Montgomery built a lead big enough to withstand a pair of Pleasant Valley runs for the 54-42 win.
“It’s a good first step. We can’t come out flat next time,” said Chantal Evett, who led the Vikings with 13 points. “The second quarter was great. We really played with a lot of effort on defense. That led us to the win.”
Matching Evett’s sharp outside shooting with low post scoring was Claire Donnelly, adding 12 points to help Montgomery move on.
The Vikings travel to Florin for a Saturday quarterfinal in the CIF State Girls Division 2 Basketball Championships.
“Each game we’ve just been improving. Tonight we just had to motivate each other,” Donnelly said.
Best when pushing and fast breaking, Pleasant Valley lost the momentum from a good start on the road. While the team from Chico outscored their hosts in the second half, Pleasant Valley could not dig out of the deep deficit.
“We finished strong. That was the goal,” said Jessica Gallaway, who led all scorers with 16 points. “We had a feeling we could come back. We got close. We just ran out of time.”
Montgomery is a veteran squad that plays unselfishly, stays calm under pressure and is willing to challenge one another.
Also deep, Montgomery finds the hot hands and stays fresh on defense. Eight players scored Wednesday.
“They enjoy the game and play well together,” said Montgomery coach Steve Bell.
“Consistency on defense and offense is the key. We need that same level of intensity the entire game.”
Pleasant Valley was a step quicker in breaking out to a lead in the opening period. The Vikings drove for good shots, spaced and moved well for backdoor scores.
“What works for our team is patience on offense,” said Pleasant Valley coach Boj Reynolds. “We’ve improved our shooting, transition game, defense and communication.”
What kept Montgomery close was forcing enough turnovers and largely controlling the rebounding to limit second chance opportunities.
“They play terrific defense,” Reynolds said.
With both Evett and Ashlee Wilson shooting well in the second quarter, Montgomery took its first lead at 14-12 and never trailed again. The Vikings scored 20 unanswered points before Pleasant Valley finally hit a basket late in the period.
“We expect to get that good ball movement and good defense going together,” Evett said. “We just had to keep getting after it.”
The visitors battled back with enough defensive stops to spark Pleasant Valley’s transition scoring.
“It starts with defense. It took a lot of effort,” Gallaway said. “We were driving to win. But they just kept coming at us.”
Their lead down to 11 in the third period, Montgomery closed out the quarter still holding a double digit advantage. Angela Hess scored 5 of her 8 on the night.
Another push by Pleasant Valley whittled the deficit to seven points. But that last score — a 3-pointer from Brittany Younan — would be the team’s last in the contest.
An old fashioned three-point play by Donnelly on a spin move and a pair of Evett free throws restored Montgomery’s double digit lead.
The game, probably Montgomery’s last at home this season, marked another advance in a great Vikings campaign.
“The way we worked together was really important for us because we want to go as far as we can,” Donnelly said.