By GEORGE HAIRE
FOR THE ARGUS-COURIER
Sonoma Academy maintained a one game lead in the tight North Central League II girls basketball race with a 45-39 win over second-place St. Vincent at DeCarli Gym Tuesday night.
The Lady Coyotes led in every period and held off a determined charge by St. Vincent in the final stanza after the hosts whittled the margin to 35-33 on a 3-pointer from the top of the circle by junior Ursyla Baumgarten.
Almost all of the late damage came at the free throw line for the quicker Sonoma Academy team as the Lady Coyotes continually drove the ball past trailing Mustang defenders, drawing fouls along the way. The Coyotes converted 12 charity tosses in the second half, including a pair by sophomore Savannah Stoughton.
St. Vincent applied a switching man defense in the final minutes, but always appeared to be a step slow against the quicker Coyotes. Point guard Luisa-Diaz Alba pounded the ball across half court on numerous occasions by dribbling to the right side of the floor against the frustrated Lady Mustangs.
Baumgarten did all she could to keep St. Vincent in the contest by scoring 11 of her game-high 18 points down the stretch. Most of her work came on drives to the left, but she stopped short and canned a long shot from the top of the circle to keep the contest within reach.
St. Vincent coach Jim Fagundes urged his team to "contain" on defense, but the over-aggressive Mustangs kept reaching, and a couple bad things resulted. For the most part, Sonoma Academy was able to dribble out of trouble, and when the Coyotes didn't, critical fouls resulted.
Three shots from behind the arc by Carsen Trinkino were critical for the Lady Coyotes, who cashed in with their second close win over the Lady Mustangs in the regular season. The only NCL II loss of the season for Sonoma Academy was an upset at the hands of Tomales in the first round of play.
"We got ourselves in trouble early in league play when we lost to both Roseland Prep and Sonoma Academy," said Fagundes. "A win tonight would have pulled us even. Our girls lost their long-range shooting touch during the Christmas break, and we are just getting past that. We have also been working on our passing on the outside."
St. Vincent was guilty of 14 turnovers against the extended Coyote 2-3 zone defense which invited cross court passing and too many St. Vincent mistakes.
"Sonoma Academy has very good guard play," noted Fagundes. "Their point guard is solid, and they have played together a long time."
Nobody worked any harder than off guard Grace Jennings of St. Vincent, who hit the deck on eight occasions, and did a complete lay-out diving for a ball during the final seconds. Jennings finished with 10 points and five steals, in addition to forcing three Sonoma Academy turnovers. The game ended with Jennings diving for another lose ball at the final horn.
Nothing has been totally decided as Sonoma Academy (9-1) still must face Tomales again in the second round and the Lady Coyotes host second-place Roseland Prep on February 8 to wind up their league season. St. Vincent slides to 7-3 in league play with the loss.