Playing on its home court for the first time this season, the Cuesta College women’s basketball team turned in a strong performance Thursday night during the opening round of the 32nd annual Phillips 66 Tournament at Cuesta Gym.
With leading scorer Boomie Pierre sidelined with the flu, the Cougars leaned on local graduates Connor Storlie and Biba Kirschner en route to a 68-51 win over Victor Valley. The victory secured Cuesta a spot in Friday’s semifinals, where it will play College of the Desert at 7:30 p.m.
Storlie, a Mission Prep alumnus, scored a season-high 15 points to go with five rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals. Kirschner, a San Luis Obispo High graduate, scored nine of her 14 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Cougars hold off a late Rams’ rally. Autumn Russell, a former Templeton High standout, pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds and added seven points and six assists.
“It’s a really good opportunity to walk away with a win like this,” said Storlie, who scored in double figures for fourth time in seven games this season. “I think we came out with a lot of energy, which is not very usual for us. We’re usually not there in the first half, so it was good to see us come out with some energy.”
Cuesta (4-3) used a 7-0 run to start the game and led 16-12 at the end of the first quarter. Victor Valley (1-6) eventually climbed its way back, taking its first and only lead of the game at 18-17 early in the second quarter.
The Cougars outscored the visiting Rams 17-6 the rest of the first half and built an 11-point advantage at the break. Storlie was the catalyst in the decisive second period, scoring seven of her team’s 18 points during that stretch.
“I thought Connor Storlie did a great job tonight,” head coach Ron Barba said.
That momentum seemed to carry over to the second half, and the Cougars opened the third quarter on a 12-5 run to take their largest lead of the game at 46-28. The Rams never fully recovered on the way to their sixth consecutive loss.
Tennia Hill scored a game-high 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including a 3-for-7 mark on her 3-point attempts. Victor Valley’s leading scorer entering Thursday’s game, Tanika Stephenson, was held to 10 points on 3-for-26 shooting.
“I thought the good thing was every time they made a run, we answered,” Barba said. “That’s a sign of learning, too.”
With Pierre sidelined, forward Maci Branstetter became Cuesta’s primary point guard and she was able to push the tempo for the better part of three quarters. She scored eight of her nine points in the first half before going down with a right ankle injury early in the fourth quarter.
Branstetter, a 5-foot-7 freshman from Ferndale, was carried off the court and did not return to the game. Barba said she would have an MRI on Friday to find out the severity of the injury, though he expected it could be season ending.
With Branstetter sidelined and Pierre’s status unknown heading into the semifinals, Cuesta’s depth will be tested against an athletic College of the Desert team the defeated Hartnell in the first round.
“I think we’re going to have a tough game tomorrow,” Barba said. “I think it’s going to come down to Boomie being able to play some. I think if she doesn’t, we’re going to have a little bit of a problem.”