The Lady Bruins punched their ticket Wednesday to the Sleep Train Arena and the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV finals with a thrilling 42-39 overtime victory over previously undefeated Argonaut.
“We didn’t get down at all throughout the game,” said Bear River senior guard Savannah Welz. “We started out a little flat but we never put our heads down and as a team we all picked it up.”
Battling it out at Tokay High School the two girls basketball teams known for their defenses lived up to their billing.
The No. 1 seeded Lady Bruins (26-3) came into the game allowing just 33.5 points per game, and when their offense screeched to a halt in the second half it was their defense that rose to the occasion.
“Our defense really was the key,” Bear River head coach Jeff Bickmore said. “We did great job defensively, taking away their 3-pointers, especially in the fourth quarter. We did a good job on their post players holding them to one shot, we just battled. When we went down four late I thought we were in real trouble, but somehow we found a way to tie it up and get to overtime.”
In the fourth quarter and overtime was when the Lady Bruins’ stellar defense decided the game. Bear River held Argonaut (29-1) to just nine points combined in the fourth and overtime periods behind the swarming pressure of junior Maddi Dunn and physical post play of junior Teryn Rath.
Dunn finished with five points, seven rebounds, three steals, and three assists. Rath was a hound on the glass, grabbing 15 rebounds, seven of which were offensive, to go with six points and three blocks.
The Lanky but slight Dunn was forced to play in the post due to Kaitlyn Reina, Bear River’s top scorer this season, being in foul trouble all game and eventually fouling out on a questionable call midway through the fourth quarter. Reina left with five points and five rebounds.
“They did good job keeping (Reina) away from the basket and she just never got going,” Bickmore said. “So for Maddi Dunn to come in and play a post spot, and for everyone else to step up and pick (Reina) up says a lot about the girls we have.”
In the final minutes of the fourth, The Lady Bruins fell behind by two but rallied with a short jumper from Rath, and their defense stopped any Argonaut scoring attempt.
With the game knotted at 36-36 and just seconds left in the fourth quarter, Bear River inbounded the ball to senior Sarah Hagar. The crafty guard waited for the clock to tick down, then with about six seconds left she made her move past the half court line. Hagar was picked up by an Argonaut player, but her quickness got her past her defender, she made a dribble behind her back and pulled up for a mid-range jump shot that caught rim and ricocheted off, sending the game to overtime.
In the extra period the Lady Bruins opened with Dunn jumper from inside the key off a pass from Rath, who was being double teamed.
The Bruins went up five when senior point guard Cindy Solomon hit a 3-pointer with 2:25 left in overtime.
Argonaut answered with a free throw by Morgan Roots, who hit her first of a 1-and-1 situation. That was followed by an inside bucket from Autumn Cramer, who scored eight of her game high 15 in the fourth and overtime periods.
Up by two with just 13.3 seconds left in the game the Lady Bruins got the ball into Hagar who was immediately fouled.
The senior stepped to the line for a 1-and-1. Hagar’s first free throw swished despite a loud and obnoxious Argonaut student section screaming at her from the sideline. Hagar’s second shot hit the back of the rim, firing back into the key and into a crowd of players. Hagar got a hand on the loose ball, but Argonaut came away with it.
With less than 10 seconds on the clock the Lady Mustangs got off a pair of desperation 3-pointers which both failed to find the bottom of the net and the Lady Bruins left the court victorious.
Bear River got strong play from their senior leaders all game as Welz scored 11 points, including three first half 3-pointers. Solomon played a strong game at the point guard position with three big overtime points, four rebounds, and two steals while limiting her turnovers.
Argonaut was able to stymy the usually potent Lady Bruin offense for much of the second half by running a sagging zone that forced Bear River into a lot of long range shots. The Lady Bruins were a miserable 6-for-31 from beyond the arc, but the six that hit came at crucial junctures of the game. Welz’s three first half bombs kept Bear River from falling behind early. Hagar hit a 3-pointer to give Bear River a four point lead early in the second, Kaitlyn Reina loosened Argonauts post defense by showing her range and hitting a 3-pointer just before half, and Solomon’s triple was the difference in overtime.
The Lady Bruins will now face Bradshaw Christian in the section championship at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Bradshaw Christian is the No. 3 seed and have taken down Union Mine, West Campus and Colfax to reach the finals.
“We need to come out better than ever,” Welz said of the upcoming championship. “We need to play good defense and play well as a team like we have all year.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.