Kristina Santiago knows the feeling of being raced from the gym in an ambulance.
The Cal Poly senior forward left a game against Austin Peay in November, during which she was taken to the hospital to have a neck injury evaluated.
So as Long Beach State’s Bianka Balthazar lay prone along the foot of the 49ers bench in Thursday night’s women’s basketball game at Mott Gym, Santiago felt a special kinship.
“It’s super scary,” Santiago said. “Just knowing what she’s going through, it’s hard when the gym gets silent. Everyone’s staring at you. You’re trying not to show your symptoms, but obviously, this is a serious matter. And I feel for her.”
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Balthazar was taken from the gym on a stretcher and rushed to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center without being outwardly clear about what caused her affliction. Hospital spokesman Ron Yukelson said Balthazar was in good condition while being treated in the emergency room around 10 p.m.
With 5 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game and Cal Poly leading 68-41, Balthazar told officials she felt like she would pass out and sat down on the court.
Minutes passed as team medical staff communicated with Balthazar and a doctor even left the stands to lend a hand.
When the freshman guard from Los Angeles was helped to the bench, she collapsed to the floor and an ambulance was summoned. Long Beach State head coach Jody Wynn chose to forfeit rather than send her players back to the floor, and the Mustangs picked up their eighth straight win with heavy hearts.
After a tear-filled handshake line, both teams huddled together in a prayer circle on the south side of the gym while Balthazar was wheeled out.
“Seeing them all torn up, you never want to see that,” said Santiago, who scored a game-high 29 points and moved to within 19 of tying the program’s all-time scoring record. “Even though they’re on the other team, we’re all here playing the same sport, playing for the same goal. We care for them a lot.”
Though the final 5:11 was not played, the statistics and outcome will count as Cal Poly (14-12, 10-3 Big West Conference) moved half a game ahead of Cal State Northridge (16-11, 10-4 Big West) in the conference standings.
The officiating crew and coaches were unsure on how to proceed with this kind of forfeiture, but all agreed the game did not need to continue.
“When they took the girl to the bench and sent the players back to the court,” Mustangs head coach Faith Mimnaugh said, “I saw (Long Beach State center Devin) Hudson in tears, and I just didn’t know if this was the right thing to do to continue the game. And then when she went down on the bench, I think it was clear this wasn’t a situation that was going to benefit either team.
“Thoughts and prayers are with Long Beach State and Bianka right now. I think it’s a realization that there’s a heck of a lot of more things important than basketball, but also we’re very appreciative of the opportunity to play basketball.”
In addition to her 29 points, Santiago also tied for the game high with nine rebounds. Ashlee Burns and Ariana Elegado scored 12 points apiece for Cal Poly. Filling in for injured point guard Jonae Ervin, Elegado grabbed five rebounds and dished out seven assists with only one turnover.
Ervin played 12 minutes on a sprained ankle but came up with only two rebounds and three assists without attempting a shot. Kayla Griffin also had nine rebounds for the Mustangs.
Alex Sanchez was the only Long Beach State player in double figures with 13 points. Tipesa Moorer added eight points and four rebounds for the 49ers.
Cal State Northridge’s 61-44 loss at UC Santa Barbara helped to give Cal Poly the half-game advantage in the standings with three regular-season games left to play.
The Matadors took a 79-77 win over the Mustangs in Northridge on January 19. Since then, Cal Poly has won eight of nine.
“We definitely want to play better than when we played them earlier in the year,” Mimnaugh said. “We feel like we’re a better team than we were then, and I’m sure they are too. But we’ve been looking forward to this matchup for a while now.”
— Tribune reporter Chhun Sun contributed to this report.