Coast Union’s girls understood before Saturday night’s home CIF basketball playoff game they had a mountain to climb to stay close to the high-powered Santa Clara Saints from Oxnard. Those in attendance in the supercharged gymnasium saw the basketball team valiantly, with grit, climb that mountain before falling just seven points short of the summit.
The tightness of the score at halftime — 23-21 in favor of the Saints — gave Coast’s players and the wildly enthusiastic supporters more than a glimmer of hope. But gradually the stronger team from the much bigger school pulled away from the Lady Broncos. The final score: Santa Clara 44, Coast Union, 37.
“After the game, we all agreed that we played really hard,” said sophomore forward Ellie Kennedy. “But we were bummed that we weren’t able to initially work around their fast break,” Kennedy added in a phone interview Sunday, Feb. 18, the day after the game.
In fact, at the outset of the game, the visiting Saints ran their extraordinarily successful fast break — and put up a stifling full-court press — that had Coast teetering on the brink of a blowout.
Indeed, Coast Athletic Director Ron Garcia commented after the game that “the girls played pretty well, especially since Santa Clara could have run them right out of the gym with their transition game.”
At the half, with Coast just two points behind, Kennedy said the team “really wanted to emphasize controlling Santa Clara’s fast breaks. They got a lot of points off their fast breaks,” because early in the game, the moment Santa Clara got a rebound under Coast’s basket, they would throw a long pass to a Saints player at the other end of the court, and that player would score an easy layup.
“I think we had a really great season,” Kennedy said. “We all improved so much. We gained confidence and trust as a team. This is a really special group of girls. It’s so cool.”
Senior forward Zoe Markham looked back at the beginning of the Coast Valley League: “We were very prepared and really good at communicating and at carrying out our plays. Our coach (Keith Stowers) was really good at researching teams beforehand, at helping us prepare and which plays to run.”
Markham said regardless of the fact that during the season, the team practiced tight, accurate passing, Santa Clara was able to take that away from the Broncos. The problem Coast faced was that they tended to “telegraph who our passes were going to,” Markham explained.
The senior also said she believed when the Saints came into the gym they were “overconfident, thinking that this was going to be a blowout game and they would destroy us. But by the end of the first quarter, they were obviously surprised at how well we were playing.”
She heard a couple Saints players saying, “We can’t lose this game.” The Saints were clearly not expecting this small school team to fight so hard, Markham said.
I think we had a really great season. We all improved so much. We gained confidence and trust as a team.
Ellie Kennedy, Coast Union sophomore forward
Markham was asked to rate the Stowers’ coaching efforts on a scale of 1-10. “Definitely a 10,” she quickly answered. “He was the best basketball coach I’ve ever had. He was extremely motivational, he had a great sense of humor — especially during stressful times — and he was really well researched about our opponents. We had a really good team this year.”
For the record, junior Kaylee Ferguson led the team with 13 points, six rebounds, and two steals. Junior Karis Lawson scored 12 points, had two rebounds and a steal. Kennedy chipped in with six points, hauled down five rebounds, and had a pair of steals. Sophomore guard Alondra Mercado scored four points, had two rebounds and a steal; and senior Meg Stern — who sang the national anthem before the game — scored two points, had five rebounds and a steal.
The Lady Broncos lose only two seniors to graduation for next season — Stern and Markham — but a strong group (Kennedy, Lawson, Mercado, Ferguson, Bella Raethke, and Angelique Gutierrez) will be returning.