PREP BASKETBALL: Forest Lake Christian’s comeback falls short in D-VI championship game (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)
VALLEY CHRISTIAN 56, FOREST LAKE CHRISTIAN 50
FLC: L. Sween - 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals
FLC: A. Jackson – 14 points, 4 steals
FLC: A. McDaniel – 11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals
VC: B. Rreshpja – 24 points
VC: G. Williams – 13 points
VC: A. Larson – 12 points
SACRAMENTO — The Lady Falcons from Forest Lake Christian left it all out on the court, even a piece of a tooth, but it wasn’t quite enough Friday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Back in a Sac-Joaquin Section championship game for the second straight season, the Lady Falcons (22-6) played with the same blend of grit, tenacity and teamwork that earned them a league title and the No. 1 seed in the section’s D-VI playoff bracket, but with the banner on the line, one really bad quarter proved to be too much to overcome and they fell to the hot-shooting Valley Christian Lions, 56-50.
“We started the season down at a tournament and we had kind of a ramshackle group,” said FLC head coach John McDaniel of his team’s journey to the title game. “One game we had five players. We had six another day. We took our lumps. But, gradually we started gaining pieces of the puzzle and when they learned how to play together and they started to gel, they started to score the ball, they started to play defense as a team and the entire season, even today, got better as a basketball team. And, that’s all you can ask.”
The first quarter of Friday’s title game was a bit ramshackle for the Lady Falcons, who fell behind 10-0 out of the gate and were without their point guard Ali McDaniel for a period of time when her face hit the floor after getting fouled on a drive.
“We lost Ali in a critical time,” John McDaniel said. “She broke a tooth out in like our third offensive possession, and that knocked a little bit of the wind out of our sails.”
Valley Christian, the No. 2 seed, went on to build a 19-3 first quarter lead before Ali McDaniel, showing tremendous courage and determination, returned to the game and found Amber Jackson for a lay in just before the quarter ended. The assist was one of six for Ali McDaniel, who also scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds and snatched four steals.
“I told the girls ‘we’ve had bad quarters before. What matters is the end,'” said John McDaniel of his message to the team after the first quarter. “The girls were smiling, they weren’t worried and that gave me a good feeling.”
The Lady Falcons went on to win each of the next three quarters.
In the second frame, FLC cut into the Lions lead, outscoring them 17-12 and went into halftime down, 31-22.
With strong play from Ali McDaniel, Jackson, Lily Sween and Ellie Wood, FLC cut the margin down to seven at 45-38 after three quarters.
An inside bucket by Sween to start the fourth quarter pulled the Lady Falcons to within five, but a 7-0 run by the Lions pushed the advantage to 12.
With less than 2 minutes left in the game, the Lady Falcons made one more run, getting a lay in from Jackson, a steal and score from Ali McDaniel and a put back by Bella O’Neill to pull within six, but would get no closer down the stretch.
Leading the Lady Falcons offensively was Sween with 16 points to go with eight rebounds and four steals. Jackson followed with 14 points and four steals while covering Valley Christian superstar Bernada Rreshpja for much of the second half.
Rreshpja, a senior who came into the game averaging 27.2 points per game, scored a game-high 24 points, including five made 3-pointers, several of which were from around NBA distance. Rreshpja was especially impressive in the first half, scoring 14 points and hitting four from deep. But, with Jackson hounding her in the second half, Rreshpja was held to 10 points and just two made field goals across the final two quarters.
“Amber (Jackson) is the best defender I’ve seen all season and I think she did a great job of keeping the ball out of (Rreshpja’s) hands,” John McDaniel said. “She stayed with her pretty much all over the court, no matter where she was. She didn’t let her bring the ball up the court or make any easy catches.”
Rreshpja wasn’t the only offensive weapon for Valley Christian, though, as Grace Williams scored 13 points and hit three 3-pointers, and Abby Larson notched 12 points, including a pair from downtown. As a team, Valley Christian sank 10 3-pointers, eight of which came in the first half.
In addition to Sween, Jackson and Ali McDaniel, the Lady Falcons got strong efforts from Wood with six points and six rebounds, O’Neill with two points and a team-high nine rebounds, and Sonja Sween with six rebounds and five steals.
McDaniel said he was proud of his team’s resiliency and is happy the season doesn’t end with this loss.
“I just love being around the kids,” he said. “That’s my favorite thing of the day. I love the two hours I get to spend with them, and I don’t want it to end. I want the season to just keep going. I’ve had such a good time and definitely feeling like I want to come back and continue coaching.”
The Lady Falcons will now await their seeding in the CIF NorCal Tournament, which tips off next week.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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