For three-and-one-half quarters, the Terra Nova girls varsity basketball team played what may have been its best basketball of the year in their Northern California Division IV Playoff semi-final against Justin-Siena last Thursday at Terra Nova.
But the girls were outscored 13-3 in the last four minutes and lost, 53-43, ending their season. The Tigers reached the semis by pounding Willows, 61-39, on Tuesday, at Terra Nova.
Justin-Siena, winners of the Sac-Joaquin section, went on to lose the NorCal finals to Campolindo, 59-50. Campolindo defeated Terra Nova in the NorCal final last year.
Terra Nova, the Central Coast Section Division IV Champions two years in a row, entered the fourth quarter against Justin-Siena with a 40-38 lead, but the Tigers had expended an awful lot of energy in the first three stanzas.
Thanks to offensive rebounds, Terra Nova had possession for the first minute of the final period, but players were unable to put the ball in the basket. With Justin-Siena switching to a zone defense with ball pressure and traps, the Tigers found it impossible to score. Although they weren't exactly lighting it up, the Braves did manage to score eight points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, and led 46-40.
The Tigers' first points of the final period came with 1:16 left in the game when senior Natalia Jonas made two free throws, narrowing the deficit to 46-42. Terra Nova then jumped into a full court press hoping to force a turnover, but a veteran Justin-Siena team handled the pressure and scored a lay-up. A free throw by Jonas cut the lead to 48-43, but that would be the end of the Tigers' scoring.
The loss not only ended the Tigers' season, but it ended Jonas' Terra Nova basketball career. The four year varsity starter leaves as Terra Nova's all-time leading scorer, and was the league's most valuable player three years in a row. More post-season honors should be headed her way.
"Their changing defenses confused us a little bit, but I think we played our best game of the year," an obviously disappointed Jonas commented. The disappointment could be seen in the form of tears on many of the Tigers' faces following the game.
"I think we're crying for all the right reasons," commented a drained Terra Nova head coach Don Taylor. "There are tears of joy and satisfaction mixed in because the kids know they maxxed out. They went as far as they could. I'm real proud of them."
There were nine ties and numerous lead changes in the game. Behind the scoring of Jonas and junior phenom Tori Weinand and a staunch defensive effort by the entire Tiger squad, Terra Nova led 23-20 at half-time. A basket by Abby Lamb to start the second half gave Terra Nova their biggest lead of the game, five points. The Braves then went on a 9-2 run to take the lead, and it stayed a see-saw affair to the closing minutes.
"They were fresher at the end," Taylor commented. "We were getting progressively tired as the game wore on. We couldn't get the steals we needed to get our transition game going."
Jonas led all scorers with 21 points and Weinand added nine. Lamb, Dayna Simondi, Julie Gerughty and Tiffany Gustafson all scored and were tremendous defensively.
In the win over Willows, Terra Nova used a tremendous fast-breaking style of play to overwhelm the Honkers, whom Terra Nova had beaten in the championship game of the Willows Holiday Classic earlier in the season. Simondi had 12 points for the Tigers, one of her best outings of the year. Weinand led all scorers with 19 points. All of the Tigers got into the action, and reserve sophomore guard Terra Nova Tara Sampson scored four points.
The Tigers finished the year at 24-6, making Taylor's two-year record at Terra Nova 55-9, an 86 percent winning percentage.