Casa Grande’s short- handed Gaucho girls blasted open a close game in the fourth quarter Friday night, using their trademark pressure defense to score the first 15 points of the final quarter on their way to a 43-31 victory in an emotional battle with cross-town rival Petaluma.

After three quarters of an exceptionally played defensive struggle, Casa Grande had a 25-22 lead as the fourth-quarter opened.

In an eye wink, freshman guard Trinity Merwin drove for a Casa bucket. The basket hurt, but what followed was fatal to the Trojans.

Employing a few wrinkles in their they hadn’t shown in the first three periods, the Gauchos came up with three steals and each led directly to a basket, including a 3-point hit by Samantha Dedrickson.

Merwin and Mia Cain contributed to the assault, and before Petaluma finally broke the streak on a pair of free throws from Sharlene Arikat, Casa had run off 15 straight points and won the ballgame.

“We pressed he whole game,” pointed out Casa Grande coach Dan Sack. “We got a few turnovers in the first half, but we weren’t getting points out of them. We made a couple of changes in the fourth quarters. We were able to trap them at half court, and got a couple of easy baskets that gave us confidence and momentum.”

Until Casa Grande pressed out the win in the last stanza, the game was an intensely played. low-scoring affar, marked by defense-induced turnovers.

The first half featured a multitude of young Casa players shuttled on and off the floor by Sack. On the Petaluma side, T-Girl play was led by sophomore Arikat who showed she is no longer an emerging star, but a star that has already arrived. She scored seven of Petaluma’s nine points in the second period and had the T-Girls in front at the half, 16-15.

The pendulum swayed from one side to the other through the third period with Casa emerging on top, 25-22, on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by freshman Sophia Gardea.

That set the stage for the Gauchos’ fourth-period extravaganza.

Instrumental in the Casa win was the play of freshman Merwin, who not only helped key the Gaucho defense, but almost quietly led Casa in scoring with 11 points.

Although it didn’t show in the score book, there was a strenuous battle under the boards between Casa’s 5-foot, 10-inch senior, Cain, and Petaluma’s 5-foot, 11-inch Jaden Krist. Neither seldom came off the court and neither gave a step in the fight for rebounds and defensive position.

Casa Grande played without starter Hannah Sullivan. The senior co-captain is still undergoing concussion protocols.