Casa Grande High School's Lady Gauchos disproved two myths while making history Wednesday night.
The Lady Gauchos' 37-36 home court win over Maria Carrillo showed not only that they could win a close game, but also that a thrilling game doesn't have to be a high-scoring game.
The win was important for the Lady Gauchos, who had lost three games against quality opposition in the West Coast Jamboree by margins of four, four and three points.
"We needed it," said junior Brooke Santander, who led Casa Grande with 13 points. "It was a nice win. We've been down a little (since losing the close games in the jamboree)."
The game was a slow-paced grind-it-out battle that started close, stayed close and ended close between two defending champions. Maria Carrillo won the North Bay League championship last season, while Casa Grande took the Sonoma County League title before moving over to the NBL this season. The game was the first and the win the first for Casa in its new league.
Santander was the difference early and late. He scored all nine of the Lady Gaucho first-quarter points and drained a clutch 3-pointer for the game's final and deciding points with 1:18 left in the game.
The final quarter was a microcosm of the entire game, with the lead ping-ponging back and fourth with few baskets and much excitement.
Maria Carrillo went up, 36-34, with just over three minutes to play on a pair of free throws by Aalyah Sowards. and for the next two minutes the teams defensed one another from baseline to baseline before Santander finally got an open look from the right of the basket and made the difference.
A steal by Casa's super defender Dayna Dolcini gave the Lady Gauchos the ball after Santander's shot and they took all but 24 seconds off the clock before a desperation shot badly missed.
That still left Maria Carrillo with over 20 seconds to fire for a tie. The Lady Pumas never even got a decent look against the tenacious Casa defense, They managed a pair of long-range shots, but both clanked off the rim as Casa kept the ball out of the hands of muscular senior Mikaeia Francis, who had 11 points in the game.
"That was an outstanding defensive effort on their last possession," said Casa Grande coach Dan Sack. "We had to keep them away from the basket and we couldn't foul."
Both teams shot poorly and both were bothered by turnovers. The Lady Pumas turned the ball over 23 times, while Casa Grande gave it up 20 times and twice failed to beat the shot clock. Sack attributed those factors to the in-your-face defense played by both teams.
"That was a tribute to both teams' defense," the Casa coach said. "It was the result of how hard we made it on them and how hard they made it on us."
He said the tough competition in the West Coast Jamboree had prepared the Lady Gauchos for what they faced Wednesday night and for what they will face for the rest of the NBL season. "We got a trial by fire," he explained. "This is going to be a tough league. The NBL is the third toughest league in the North Coast section."