PREP BASKETBALL: Bear River girls hit stride in playoffs |

PREP BASKETBALL: Bear River girls hit stride in playoffs

The Lady Bruins are playing their best basketball of the season, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

With wins over No. 10 Venture Academy in the first round and No. 2 Calaveras in the second round, No. 7 Bear River is peaking as it heads into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals Tuesday.

“We became a better basketball team over the last half of the season,” said Bear River head coach Randy Billingsley. “We’re not a two-player show. Every night we have multiple players making big contributions.”

In Bear River’s upset win over Calaveras, three different Lady Bruins scored in double figures and eight players pitched in points. The same was the case in the win over Venture Academy. So far in the playoffs, the Lady Bruins have won each game by at least 10 points and are averaging 70 points per game. Heading into the playoffs Bear River had been averaging 54.8 points per game.

Billingsley said the improved play has to do with a shift in ideology within the team.

“They are playing for the girl next to them and not for themselves,” he said. “It’s powerful stuff.”

For much of the season, the team was led by its two impressive guards Alyssa Pulkinghorn (12.3 points per game, 2.7 steals per game) and Katelyn Meylor (14.4 ppg. 4.1 spg). And, while both Pulkinghorn and Meylor remain instrumental to Bear River’s success, other Lady Bruins have emerged to take some pressure off the two talented guards.


Junior Mallory Rath has developed from a good post player at the beginning of the season to a dominant post player and a major reason the Lady Bruins are still playing. Rath is averaging 9.4 ppg and 11.2 rebounds this season, and really turned it on down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs. The powerful forward has notched a double-double in points and rebounds in four of her last five games, including both the playoff games. She scored 22 points and had a season-high 22 rebounds against Venture Academy, and then followed it up with 14 points and 13 rebounds against Calaveras.

“She makes us a totally different team,” Billingsley said. “At the beginning of the year I thought we were a guard dominant team. I think it was the Colfax game when she really established herself as one of the best players in the league.”


While the Lady Bruins have Pulkinghorn, Meylor and Rath leading the way, they have several other integral players that are key to their success including senior post player Ashley Albee (5.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), senior guard and defensive standout Rebecca Van Patten (3.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg), junior guard Kylee Dresbach-Hill (5.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.9 spg), junior forward Karinne McDonald (2.1 ppg, 3 rpg) and senior guard Grace Sypnicki (2.1 ppg).


The Lady Bruins have also been strong from beyond the arc in the playoffs, hitting 19-of-41 3-pointers.

They are hitting from deep at a 46-percent clip, way up from their season average of 25 percent. Bear River has multiple players that can hit from deep, with Pulkinghorn, Meylor, Dresbach-Hill, Van Patten, Sypnicki and Rath all posing a deep threat. Meylor leads the team with 58 made 3s and Pulkinghorn is second with 51.


Waiting for Bear River in the semifinals is Pioneer Valley League foe Foothill. The Mustangs are the No. 3 seed after finishing second behind Placer and a spot ahead of Bear River in the PVL standings. The Lady Bruins and Mustangs have already met twice this season with each team winning on the others court. Bear River topped Foothill, 68-62, in Sacramento Jan. 13 in the PVL opener for both teams. The Mustangs returned the favor with a 78-51 trouncing of the Lady Bruins Jan. 31.

“We know them well, and they know us well,” Billingsley said. “There are no secrets.”

Foothill is led by its impressive junior Makaila Sanders, who is averaging 24.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 6.7 assists per game and 4.2 spg.

The Mustangs were one of the favorites to win the D-IV section crown at the beginning of the season and despite a late slip up in league play remains one of the best teams in the division, but that doesn’t scare Bear River, said Billingsley.

“Our mantra is don’t fear anyone,” he said. “We respect everyone. But, we don’t fear anyone.”

The Lady Bruins and Mustangs will play for a spot in the D-IV title game Tuesday at Tokay High School in Lodi. The winner will face either No. 1 West Campus or No. 5 Union Mine in the championship game.


The Lady Bruins and Mustangs aren’t the only teams from the PVL that earned spots in the semifinals. Placer, the PVL champ and No. 7 seed in the D-III bracket, has worked its way into the semifinals after a first round win over No. 10 River Valley and a second round win over No. 2 Vista del Lago. The Hillgals will now face No. 3 Patterson in the semifinals at Galt High School Tuesday.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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