Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Menlo’s Hannah Paye puts up a shot during the Knights’ 43-40 win over King’s Academy in the CCS Division IV semifinals.
Tenacity proved King’s Academy’s calling card, but in the end it could not catch No. 2-seed Menlo.
Menlo led by as much as 10 points in yesterday’s Central Coast Section Division IV semifinal win over No. 6-seed King’s Academy, but the game went down to the wire as Menlo held on for 43-40 victory.
“You’ve got to hand it to TKA, they’re a very good team,” Menlo head coach John Paye said. “They presented some matchup problems to us. We had a 10-point lead and … we couldn’t put them away. They just battled back and I think that was evidenced by the senior leadership on that team. They just willed it. So I’m just very thankful that we won.”
With the win, Menlo advance to Saturday’s CCS championship game against No. 5-seed Castilleja at a time and place to be determined.
Menlo’s defense was swarming early and often. King’s Academy’s committed 24 turnovers throughout, eight of which came in the first quarter.
An early run staked Menlo to a 7-0 lead, but King’s Academy senior guard Falecia Sanchez made sure Menlo couldn’t run away with it. Sanchez put up the first five points for King’s Academy to cut the Menlo lead to 7-5. But it’s as close as King’s Academy would get on the scoreboard until with under a minute left in the half.
Menlo took a 17-12 advantage into the second quarter, and widened its lead to 10 when sophomore Anna Miller hit a long 3-pointer to go up 22-12. But King’s Academy still refused to fold, going on a 9-0 run to finish the first half. With 15 seconds remaining in the half, Menlo committed one of its 14 turnovers and King’s Academy took advantage to even it up. Just before the halftime buzzer sounded, TKA junior Katie Young found a seam and drove to the hoop off a sweet feed from Eunice Kim to tie it at 28-28.
“We like to play up-tempo and … we had a shot at putting them away and we didn’t,” Paye said. “Like I said, we’ve got to hand it to TKA. But I don’t think we ever gave up the lead.”
The halftime tie was, in fact, the closest King’s Academy would get. The tempo slowed dramatically in the second half, with Menlo outscoring King’s Academy 8-2 in the third quarter. And King’s Academy suffered a momentary blow when Sanchez got head-butted while underneath the hoop and had to come off the court until the fourth quarter.
Following another substantial Menlo lead at 40-31 in the fourth quarter, Sanchez reentered the game, with an ice pack pressed to her face while crouched at the scorer’s table just before retaking the floor. But she promptly hit a 3 to close Menlo’s lead to 40-38.
“It was just determination,” Sanchez said. “My team needed me to hit a big shot and I was able to come up with it.”
TKA soon closed it to 41-40, but Menlo added one last basket before Menlo sophomore McKenzie Duffner intercepted a pass on King’s Academy’s final possession to secure the win.
Forward Donya Dehnad — the only senior on the Menlo team — scored a game-high 16 points and added seven rebounds. Duffner tabbed 11 points and nine rebounds.
Menlo has won five CCS crowns in the history of girls’ basketball, including a 53-32 blowout of Sacred Heart Prep last year. However, with such a turnover from last year’s squad and eight underclassmen now on the roster, Menlo hasn’t gotten a lot of respect this season.
“I think people have underestimated us the whole season, so going into the CCS championship is proving a lot already,” Dehnad said. “So, either way (win or lose) I’ll be proud of my team.”