Vintage’s Lady Crushers won the first Vine Valley Athletic League pennant, but Casa Grande’s young Lady Gauchos argued Friday night that the Napa-based team might not be the best in the league.
Casa Grande outplayed Vintage most of the evening, and then rallied at the end for a 41-37 win and the title in the first VVAL post-season tournament. The victory not only gave Casa the tournament trophy, but also marked its second win over Vintage in three games the league leaders have played this season.
While Casa has leaned heavily on its younger players, especially sophomores Trinity Merwin, Sophia Gardea and Ashley Casper all season, in its soul-satisfying win Friday night, it was senior Samantha Dedrickson who stepped up big time.
The 5-foot, 11-inch senior’s major contribution to Casa Grande’s 18-9 season has been as a dominant rebounder, shock blocker and inside defender. On Friday night, she morphed into a shooter, and boy did she shoot, dropping home 5-of-9 3-point attempts for 15 points. When she wasn’t shooting from her sweet spot just to the left of the free-throw circle, she found time to grab six rebounds and block three shots.
“I don’t shoot that much,” Dedrickson noted. “Emma (Reese) is usually our shooter. After I hit the second three, I began to feel confident.”
After playing twice previously in league, the teams know each other well, so Casa coach Dan Sack devised a strategy that called for outside shooter Reese to be used as a decoy, leaving Dedrickson open. She didn’t fail.
Reese hit just two 3-pointers, but they were huge, coming early in the third period after Vintage had moved ahead, 19-18. The guard’s back-to-back connections put Casa in front, 24-21, and swung momentum back to the Lady Gauchos.
Both Merwin and Gardea played like seasoned veterans in the pressure-laden game.
Gardea ran the show, handling and distributing the ball in the face of Vintage’s vaunted pressure defense. Merwin took the ball to the hoop, finishing with nine crucial points.
Both acknowledged that they were a bit apprehensive playing in a game they wanted so badly to win.
“I was nervous,” admitted Gardea. “I really wanted to beat them.”
“This really was a team effort,” noted Sack. “To hold a team that good to under 40 points is an accomplishment. This was one of our best defensive efforts of the year.”
In contrast to most of the season when he rotated his entire roster into the game in the first half, Sack stuck with his best players for the entire game against Vintage.
And, their best effort was needed.
Casa Grande established the game trend early, forcing Vintage into nine turnovers in the opening period. The Lady Crushers unofficially had 24 in the game.
Casa Grande had just three in the opening quarter and 14 for the game. The Lady Gauchos’ early problem was that they couldn’t put the ball into the net, getting just three shots to fall. Two were 3-pointers by Dedrickson that gave Casa an 8-3 lead by the end of Round 1.
After their bad beginning, the Lady Crushers found the handle on the basketball and began to work inside, turning the game into a tense tussle the rest of the way.
Casper beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer to keep the Lady Gauchos in front, 18-14, at the halftime intermission.