Casa Grande turned back a furious fourth-period rally by visiting Napa to advance to the finals in the initial Vine Valley Athletic League girls basketball tournament with an exciting 56-53 win over the feisty Lady Grizzlies on Wednesday.
It was the second victory in three nights over Napa for the Lady Gauchos who move on to the championship game against league titilist Vintage on Friday at 5:30 p.m. hosted by American Canyon High School. The two teams split the season series.
Although a quick lead by the physical Gauchos brought a similar tone to the Monday victory over Napa, this one wound up much more difficult.
The Gauchos grabbed a commanding 17-8 advantage after the first period, led by hustling off guard Tiffany Merwin. Merwin took advantage of a stifling Casa full-court pressure defense to drive to the hoop for six points while dishing out a key assist.
Shayla Dunker, who doubled in the evening with another solid pre-game rendition of the national anthem, came into the game early in the first period, and made quick impact with two baskets close in. Dunker wound up with a good all-around first half with six points and two rebounds in temporally taking the spot of Samantha Dedrickson.
Dedrickson had to exit the game with a leg bruise, but returned for regular duty in the second half after the Gauchos improved their margin to 33-21 at intermission. Dedrickson also kicked in offensively with two long triples from the corner of the Grizzly defense.
Napa began to kick things up a notch in the second half spearheaded by the return of senior guard Jane Mcloughlin. on the injury list since the early tournament at Piner, Mcloughlin was a dynamo down the stretch with three steals and 12 points. She also came away with four loose balls, and Napa was almost able to come all the way back by outscoring the Lady Gauchos, 21-13, in the final stanza. Most of the points by Napa came from getting behind the Gaucho press.
The Grizzlies had one final attempt to knot the contest up with an out-of-bounds possession with only one second on the clock. A quick inbounds pass and a three point try fell off the lip of the basket.
Merwin scored in every period to pace Casa Grande with 18 points. The top Gaucho scorer for the season kept her team in front with a variety of driving shots from both sides of the basket.
Point guard Sophia Gardea also turned in an outstanding game before fouling out late in the fourth stanza. She scored 14 points with eight coming in the frantic fourth period.
A timely steal in the fourth quarter by freshman Cassie Llavarias helped the Gauchos hold off the Napa onslaught. Dependable ball distributor Jennifer Loya was a major contributor with five blocks on the inside.
Shooting guard Emma Reese continued to pile up the 3-pointers with three shots from outside the arc for the Gauchos, now 17-9 on the season.
“Their double teaming bothered us late in the game,” said Gaucho coach Dan Sack. “We had to figure that they were going to do that because of a comeback in the previous game. It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, and Napa plays with great emotion. Gardea made the difference in the last period with her eight points.”