If you’re a fan of the Sacred Heart Prep girls’ basketball team, you know it isn’t every night you can look at the box score, notice a five in the points column for Melissa Holland and expect to hear your Gators won.
Especially not in a game as big as the Central Coast Section Divison IV semifinals against the No. 1 seeded Soquel Knights, right?
But that’s exactly what happened Tuesday night on the Notre Dame-Belmont campus and SHP guard Helen Gannon can explain.
“I have to say our heart,” Gannon said when asked how, despite the lack of scoring from their leading scorer, the Gators are on the way to the CCS DIV final. “Everyone says, ‘Sacred Heart? This little tiny school in Atherton?’ People have barely heard of us. I think it’s just heart, wanting to go out there and make a name for ourselves. Make our school proud.”
The Gators survived various second-half surges by the Knights but held on for a 55-52 win. SHP led by as many as 12 points and saw double-digit leads trimmed down to single possession advantages, including 54-52 with less than a minute to go in the game.
“[We played] controlled, focus basketball,” said SHP head coach Ann Tafolla. “We tend to get a little antsy when teams don’t go, ‘Oh, you’re up 10? Then I guess we’ll stop playing.’ And I told them that at halftime, we can be up 10, we can be up 15, it’s never going to be enough. They’re going to keep coming. Keep playing focus, controlled basketball. And they took care of the ball which we haven’t done all the time. It was a good day to do it.”
It was a great day considering Soquel did a good job of shutting down one of the Holland sisters. Unfortunately for the Knights, Meagan Holland was her usual self as No. 2 scored 14 points. And she wasn’t alone picking up the offensive slack. Gannon scored 14 while Riley Hemm (nine points) and Caroline Cummings (eight points) had huge, momentum-shifting buckets for the Gators.
“She’s been there. She plays tough defense. She boxes out. She’s our big kid,” Tafolla said of Cummings. “It was a sort of a guided effort through all of them. We did something totally different on defense and they did it, they managed it.”
“I think we all just stepped it up,” Gannon said. “We came in here knowing we were the underdog and I think that we realized she was going to be shut down but we just all stepped it.”
SHP led 19-15 after the first quarter and pushed the lead to 10 with six minutes left in the half. The Knights cut it to seven but Gannon banked home a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to get the lead back to double digits.
The second half was all about the Gators taking Soquel’s best punches and hitting bit shots to thwart the comeback efforts.
The Knights got off to a 7-0 start in the third before Gannon hit a bucket to stop the surge. Then, Soquel was down 38-37 before Jessica Koenig hit a big 3-pointer to do the same.
The Knights dominated the boards in the third quarter to give them plenty of second-chance offensive looks. Still, they only shot 27 percent from the floor.
“Defense … it’s all we’ve been working on,” Gannon said. “We switched up the defense a little. We added the press. We wanted to come out the strongest on the press.”
Up six come the fourth, the Gators led by as many as nine before Soquel began to foul to try and save time with over two minutes left in the game.
The strategy almost worked because Soquel got to within two and had a chance to tie the game after a SHP free throw made it 55-52 with 29 seconds left. But the Knights missed the equalizing shot.
“I’m happy for them,” Tafolla said. “I want you to feel what it’s like to play at a level, to win and to pull it off. To win. Enjoy the moment and be like, ‘That was so awesome.’ It’s a fun place to be in for sure. “