Heading into this season, Morro Bay High girls basketball coach Cary Nerelli wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his roster, outside of Megan Hansen and Ciara Ramos, his only two returning varsity players with significant experience.
As expected, Hansen, a junior point guard, and Ramos, a senior power forward, are leading the Pirates, but a cast of newcomers has held its own, too.
Morro Bay trounced Santa Ynez 57-29 on Monday night for a Los Padres League win at home. Of course, Hansen and Ramos were themselves, scoring 19 and 11 points, respectively, but Nickie Bloom, Carli Watt and Sierra Wilcox — all freshmen — added a combined 13 in the win, and also provided staunch defense throughout.
“I feel very positive about where we are at this point in the season,” Nerelli said. “One of the key elements for us to be successful this year was how Megan and Ciara, as our only returners, could be the foundation we could build upon.”
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Despite working in five underclassmen, Morro Bay (14-6, 7-2) — which has lost in league play only to St. Joseph, which is ranked No. 20 in all of Southern California by the Los Angeles Times — entered the contest ranked No. 8 in Division IV-A of the CIF-Southern Section.
“The younger players have all improved to a point where we don’t have a glaring weakness,” Nerelli added.
Hannah Gilbert, a 6-foot freshman center, has also made strong contributions this season, although she left Monday’s game with a first-quarter injury.
“We’re playing more like veterans,” said Hansen, who continually broke Santa Ynez’s full-court press. “We don’t feel young.”
A year ago, the 5-foot-6 Hansen earned first-team all-LPL honors after averaging a team-high 13.3 points per game during a second-round divisional playoff run.
“It’s a fun experience, for sure,” Hansen said of taking on a more mentoring role this time. “It’s great to see how (the younger players) have grown.”
Hansen entered the week leading the Pirates with 12.8 points and 3.2 steals per game, while the 5-11 Ramos, who was an all-league honorable mention last season, was close behind at 9.3 points per game.
Aria Johnson, a senior post presence who is also a newcomer to the varsity squad, had 13 points Monday.
“We had contributions all around,” Ramos said. “Everyone on the team did something great.”
Santa Ynez (9-14, 4-5 LPL) had no players score in double figures, as Michelle Herrera led the way with nine points, and Annie Fredrickson chipped in eight.
“I thought we played really good lockdown defense,” Ramos said.
Ramos put Morro Bay up 14-4 on a 3-pointer with only seconds remaining in the first quarter. Santa Ynez opened the second with a 6-0 run, but that was followed by a 19-0 run by Morro Bay that spanned the second and third, resulting in a 33-10 lead with about five minutes left before the fourth.
“Overall, our defense kept us on top while the offense wasn’t flowing,” Nerelli said. “Ciara and Aria underneath were nails protecting the inside, and we didn’t give up much on the perimeter, either.”
Although Santa Ynez trimmed the margin to 40-25 soon after, Morro Bay pulled away late, jump-started by a Hansen 3 as the shot clock expired with three-and-a-half minutes remaining in regulation, stretching the advantage to 47-27.
“We want to go out with all wins,” Hansen said of the Pirates’ momentum leading up to the playoffs. “We’re going to bring our best. We’re fired up and ready to go.”