Walk-on sophomore guard Ashley Cascio uncorked her first two field goals of the season — both 3-pointers — and on the sideline, Cal Poly’s tallest player was quickly to her feet to support its shortest.
Six-foot, 5-inch freshman center Molly Schlemer was cheering as hard as anyone when Cascio, listed at 5-4, swished two 3s in the final four minutes of the Mustangs women’s basketball team’s 82-52 win over visiting Cal State Northridge on Saturday.
“A.C. is one of those players that’s always working hard after practice, doing sprints,” Schlemer said, “and it’s great to find out that hard work pays off and she can get those six points that she had.”
In her own right, Schlemer has inspired the same kind of rally cries from the bench in games when the Righetti High graduate has been able to put up points.
Saturday was one of those days.
Schlemer came off the bench to tie a career high with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbed five rebounds as the Mustangs routed the struggling Matadors (1-18, 1-5 Big West Conference) to keep their unbeaten conference record intact heading into a rivalry game at UC Santa Barbara on Thursday.
Cal Poly (11-7, 7-0 Big West) was led by 6-3 center Abby Bloetscher, who emerged unfazed from a collision that saw her saddled with a technical foul, to finish with 16 points and seven rebounds. Kayla Griffin added 11 points and five rebounds.
Mustangs leading scorer Rachel Clancy, who came in averaging more than 16 points, was held under double digits in back-to-back games for the first time all season, but the senior guard contributed elsewhere.
Clancy had eight points and four rebounds and registered game highs with eight assists and four steals as Cal State Northridge committed 29 turnovers.
“The contributions that she’s making, sometimes it doesn’t always show up on the scoreboard,” Cal Poly head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, “but it’s the little things. It’s her help defense, it’s the eight assists, it’s talking, it’s leadership — it’s all those things that aren’t on the stat sheet but mean a big deal for us.”
While the Mustangs have come to expect consistent contributions from Clancy, Bloetscher, Griffin and others in the wake of Kristina Santiago’s season-ending knee injury, output from Schlemer has been an unexpected bonus.
Averaging just 7.7 minutes and 2.9 points, Schlemer is in a transition phase where her height makes her a weapon but her youth and lateral quickness can still make her a defensive liability.
She has some awareness that she represents the future for the program, but she’s eager to take advantage of her opportunities, as she did while scoring 12 in Cal Poly’s 74-65 win over UC Davis two weeks ago.
“I’m also taking it one game at a time,” Schlemer said, “playing for this year, for the players that are here this year, working hard for them so we can get that championship.”
That attitude is what’s inspired the standing ovations she gets from teammates when she does have success.
“She has a very nice touch around the basket,” said Bloetscher, Schlemer’s peer mentor. “She posts up really hard. I just love watching her improve every game. It’s really fun for me to watch.
“Molly comes to practice every day willing to work hard. She takes a lot of direction from me and the coaches, and sometimes that can get to her a little bit, but she’s so positive and she wants to work hard. She loves this team.”
Bloetscher led all scorers with 10 first-half points as the Mustangs cruised to a 38-20 lead at the break. There was a tense moment in the second half when Bloetscher got tangled up and fell to the ground with Cal State Northridge center Violet Alama, then floored Alama in a second collision after scoring a basket just moments later.
After a conference by the officials, Bloetscher was assessed a technical foul with 16:49 left in the game and Cal Poly leading 47-25.
“I did not mean to hit her, but it is what it is. It happened,” Bloetscher said. “I’m sorry it happened, but I thought we reacted well. We didn’t let it faze us.
“Sometimes calls like that can change the pace of the game, but we kept attacking and kept with it, which I thought was really good and showed a lot of maturity.”
The Mustangs now take their seven-game winning streak to the Thunderdome, where they haven’t won since beating the Gauchos 82-71 on Jan. 1, 2006.
The unbeaten start in Big West play, however improbable with the loss of Santiago, won’t be the focus, Mimnaugh said.
“It’d be nice to keep it going for a long time, but I know that if we continue to focus, we’ll be ready to play Santa Barbara,” Mimnaugh said. “We’re obviously going to have to play our ‘A’ game to beat them. We’re not really concerned with the streak thing. We’re just trying to play the best ball that we can and position ourselves the best we can for the (conference) tournament.”