The wait is over, the teams are prepped, and now it’s time to tip off the Sac-Joaquin Section girls basketball playoffs.
Nevada County has three teams in three different divisions this year, and all have hopes on leaving their mark on the second season.
With Bear River, Forest Lake Christian and Nevada Union all taking the court today at 7 p.m., we take a look at the first-round matchups.
Who: No. 4 Nevada Union (21-4, 9-1 SFL) vs. No. 13 St. Francis (14-12, 5-5 DRL)
What: Sac-Joaquin Section D-I playoffs
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Nevada Union
This isn’t the normal No. 4-vs.-No. 13 matchup.
While Nevada Union is coming off its best season in nearly a decade, it may run into trouble in the first round.
St. Francis is a team that is no stranger to the postseason. In 2012, the Troubadours, as the No. 12 seed, knocked off No. 5 Monterey Trail, 60-51, in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs and won the D-I section championship in 2011.
The Troubadours are a guard-oriented offense that also boasts size. They are led by 5-foot, 10-inch point guard Najah Queenland. The multi-tool player leads the team in almost all major statistical categories with 11.8 points per game, 8.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4.1 steals.
“She is definitely their top player,” NU head coach John McDaniel said. “She’s big and physical, and we will definitely need to slow her down.”
Nevada Union’s run-and-gun offense coupled with its ferocious defensive press has served it well against teams that have more size than it does, and this game will be no different, said McDaniel.
“We are going to play our game,” he said. “We will do what we do best. We score well, and we defend well.”
Nevada Union indeed does both well, leading the Sierra Foothill League in both points (66.4 per game) and points allowed this season (42.1 per game).
St. Francis, which finished in third in the Delta River League, averaged 50.6 points per league game and allowed 44.9 per league game.
Nevada Union does have an experienced squad with many of the players on the current roster having played in last season’s first-round road loss to Bethel.
The Lady Miners have the added advantage this season of playing at home. Nevada Union is undefeated on its own court, winning nine straight games in Albert Ali Gymnasium by an average of 23.5.
Who: No. 1 Bear River (23-3, 8-2 PVL) vs. No. 17 Hilmar (18-8, 5-7 TVL)
What: Sac-Joaquin Section D-IV playoffs
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Bear River
In the all the years Jeff Bickmore has been the coach at Bear River, which includes section championships in 2006 and 2007, he has never had a team grab the No. 1 seed.
That the Lady Bruins find themselves in that position now, he sees as fortunate, but other than the home games that accompanies a top seed, Bickmore could care less. The longtime coach is more focused on the basketball than on the brackets.
“It’s definitely a good moment for our program, but there are no real pros and cons,” he said. “It just comes down to matchups and how you stack up against the other team.”
If Bear River wants to avoid a major upset at the hands of the Yellowjackets, the last team to make the D-IV playoffs, it will need to shut down the Gemperles.
Hilmar has a pair of seniors, Oliviah and Savannah Gemperle, who drive their team. Oliviah leads the team in points per game (14.5), rebounds per game (8.8), assists per game (2.4) and steals per game (2.6). Savannah is second on the team in points per game (9.1) and rebounds (6.7).
The Lady Bruins have a veteran team that made a long run in the playoffs last season. Maddi Dunn, Cindy Solomon, Sarah Hagar, Savannah Welz and Teryn Rath all contributed in the Lady Bruins’ playoff run that took them to the Sac-Joaquin Section D-IV semifinals. Hagar and Welz were both starters on last year’s squad.
This year has also been a coming-out party for several Lady Bruins. Solomon, who played sparingly last season, runs this year’s team. The speedy point guard averages 7.7 points per game and doles out 2.3 assists per game. She can also hit the long-range shot, along with Welz and Hagar, and rarely turns the ball over.
One of the biggest additions for Bear River has been the emergence of Kaitlyn Reina. The post player who missed last season due to injury leads the team in points with 13.2 per game and pulls down 9.7 rebounds per game.
The Bruins are a force offensively with 58.2 points per game but can also be stingy on defense, allowing just 33.2 points per game this season.
And while Hilmar can score (51.5 per game), its defense can be exposed. The Yellowjackets allowed an average of 55 points per game during their league season.
The Lady Bruins and Yellowjackets will battle at 7 p.m. today at Jack R. McCrory gymnasium for the right to play in the second round.
Who: No. 9 Forest Lake Christian (15-11, 7-5 CVCL) at No. 9 Central Catholic (16-7, 8-4 WL)
What: Sac-Joaquin Section D-V playoffs
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Central Catholic
After a two-year absence from the postseason, the Lady Falcons are back and excited for this opportunity, said head coach Tom Ritchart.
With that excitement comes some nerves though, Ritchart said. He just hopes his girls can play through them and get into their style of basketball.
Central Catholic’s star player, junior Margaret Gallo, will likely make that difficult. The 5-foot, 9-inch multi-position player leads the Raiders in points per game (19), rebounds (6.3) and steals (3.8).
Gallo is the main cog on a team that averages 51.2 points per game and allows just 41.7 per game.
Forest Lake Christian will likely combat Gallo with Lauren Piner. The lanky Piner is a good defender who can start and finish a fast break. Piner has a decent jump shot and is arguably the best defender on FLC’s squad. Also a linchpin for the Lady Falcons will be the play of Emily Pearce. If Pearce can force some turnovers from the point guard spot and limit her turnovers, FLC will better its chances of victory.
The Lady Falcons will also need a big game from its lone player with playoff experience, Emily Woodward. The vastly improved Woodward, who was a freshman on the varsity team the last time FLC was in the playoffs, is the Lady Falcons’ main post presence with the ability to score 20 points and pull down 10 rebounds on any given night.
Piner, Pearce and Woodward are the driving force behind why FLC scores just under 50 points per game and why it only allows 38.9 per game on defense.
The Lady Falcons will travel to face Central Catholic at 7 p.m. today in Modesto.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.