It appears the Hillsdale girls’ basketball team is saving its most complete brand of basketball for when it matters most — playoff time.
The Knights cleared their bench Tuesday in what was a complete drubbing of Soledad High School 66-27 during the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division III tournament.
An emphasis on pressure defense coupled with arguably its cleanest execution on offense this season translated to 12 different Knights finding the scoresheet. In all, Hillsdale shot close to 45 percent on the night while overwhelming Soledad to the tune of 24 turnovers.
“We just brought energy,” said Hillsdale head coach Megan Hankins. “If we don’t bring energy, the games are close. But no one can match our intensity when we’re ready to play. I’m really proud of the girls. We had a tough one against South City (during the PAL tournament) and I think they really turned it around and showed themselves what they’re really made of. They wanted to make the most of the CCS opportunity. And here we are, going to the second round.”
“We played together,” said Hillsdale sophomore guard Emily Nepomuceno. “And we had the same energy that we started with all the way until the end. That’s what motivates us. We just came out wanting it and we played our hearts out today. We really wanted to make to the next level.”
For that, Hillsdale stepped on the accelerator from the opening tip and pretty much blitzed Soledad out of the gym. A 19-point first quarter, highlighted by Kara Ronberg’s six points, was the quick start Hillsdale needed. From there, the result was never really in question. The Knights held Soledad to just five points in the second quarter while Nepomuceno and Marissa Otonari paced Hillsdale with five points a piece in that second frame. The Knights led 33-16 at recess.
“I think we were getting what we wanted out of our offense,” Hankins said. “I think we look great going forward.”
It’s easy to see how Hillsdale’s offensive performance on Tuesday could be a great confidence boost for them going forward. Always a tough and feisty team, against Soledad the Knights tapped into a bit of finesse. In the third quarter, they shot a cool 50 percent from the floor while taking leads of up to 21 on a couple of occasions. Soledad pulled to within 17, but Ronberg’s back-to-back baskets pushed it over 20 again and Hillsdale led by 23 going into the fourth quarter.
“It was really great,” Hankins said. “Trying to explain that to kids, they’re like, ‘Coach, my shot isn’t going in’ but they know if we play hard defense, the buckets will come. I think we made it a lot easier on ourselves going forward and I think if we keep up this energy, we can go pretty far.”
In total, 12 different Knights scored. Ronberg scored 12 while Nepomuceno added 11. Caelynn Hwang was also in double digits with 11.
“I think the message tomorrow is to pick up where we left off today, with the energy,” Hankins said. “We have to execute better in the half court. And we have to cut down on our turnovers.”
In other CCS action, a strong defensive effort fueled Mills’ 42-23 win over James Lick High School in Division III action. The Vikings held James Lick to just nine first-half points.
Mills shot 28 percent from the floor and were led by the efforts of Aubrie Businger, who scored 10 points and pulled down 12 rebound. Madison Sui led all Mills scorers with 12. Julia Gibbs added nine.
Defense was the name of the game at Burlingame where the defending CCS champion Panthers took down Gilroy, 37-24.
The Mustangs of Capuchino recorded an opening round win as well by taking down Live Oak 70-61 in Division III action.
And finally, after the teams were tied at 18 going into halftime, Half Moon Bay pushed past Santa Catalina 44-36 in Division IV action.