NCS basketball: St. Vincent girls poised for biggest game of season

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

St. Vincent's Rebecca Dodele, left, warms up with her team during practice in Petaluma on Thursday. (Conner Jay/Press Democrat)

St. Vincent’s Rebecca Dodele, left, warms up with her team during practice in Petaluma on Thursday. (Conner Jay/Press Democrat)

When the North Coast Section playoffs got underway 11 days ago, 46 Redwood Empire teams suited up with dreams of a title in one of the six divisions.

Now, on the eve of the championship games, only one area team has an opportunity to win a coveted trophy. That squad is the St. Vincent girls in Division 5.

The team that stands in the way of the Mustangs bringing the title home to Petaluma is International High. The San Francisco school is the No. 4 seed, while St. Vincent is No. 6. The Jaguars knocked off top-seeded Valley Christian in Wednesday’s semifinals, while the Mustangs eliminated No. 2 San Domenico.

The Division 5 title will be decided Saturday at Albany High School. Tip-off is 5 p.m.

St. Vincent is going in as the underdog because on a neutral court Dec. 28, the Mustangs lost to International 62-48.

While coach Jim Fagundes remembers the game well, he thinks the outcome could be different on Saturday.

“We’ve improved a lot since then,” he said. “That final score is deceiving because we were only down three points in the third quarter.

“We’re moving the ball better now, our offensive rebounding is stronger and we’re better defensively.”

On paper, it looks like St. Vincent will have a tough time getting rebounds. International has five players 5-foot-10 or taller. The Mustangs’ tallest player is 5-foot-10 sophomore Olivia De-Graca.

However, the Jaguars’ most feared weapon is guard Shayna Mehta. She went for 27 points when the schools met earlier.

“We’ll have to contain her, that’s for sure,” Fagundes said. “Like I’ve said, our defense has really improved since early in the season.”

The Mustangs came up with a stellar defensive effort in Wednesday’s 33-30 victory at San Domenico. They held the Panthers to four points in the pivotal third quarter.

St. Vincent trailed 16-10 at halftime before going on a 10-0 run early in the third. Guard Grace Jennings got things going with a 3-point goal.

San Domenico came into the game with 23 victories. One of those a 29-24 decision over International.

The Mustangs are a resilient group. Since Jan. 6, they’ve been without top player Ursyla Baumgarten. She stretched a knee ligament in the NCL II opener.

Despite losing their best player, the Mustangs went undefeated in league and finished three games in front of runner-up Roseland University Prep.

“Ursyla is close to returning but hasn’t been cleared yet,” Fagundes said.

Ellie O’Neill has stepped in for Baumgarten. She scored a team-high eight points in the win over San Domenico.

Also playing a big role in the playoff success have been substitute Rainey Henry, Rebecca Dodele and Maddie Perry.

The Mustangs come into the biggest game of the season having won 18 of their last 19 games and five straight.

International tied for third in the Bay Counties-West League. The Jaguars are 5-4 in their last nine games.

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