Half Moon Bay’s post tandem of Ally Longaker and Siobhan Calhoun don’t appear to be the prototypical twin towers.
While Longaker certainly towers over most at 6-feet tall, Calhoun prides herself on being in the normal range at 5-8. But the two certainly played like twin towers as the Cougars, the No. 3 seed out of the PAL North, travelled to Mills, the No. 2 seed in the South, to take down the Vikings 52-35 Thursday night in the opening round of the Peninsula Athletic League girls’ basketball tournament.
The senior post tandem each recorded double-doubles at Half Moon Bay outrebounded Mills 51-30, especially doing a number on the Vikings by dominating the offensive boards to give HMB a number of second and third chances.
“We definitely had a good year this year with our post game,” Longaker said. “We’ve worked really hard on it this year. That’s kind of what we pride ourselves on is, it’s not a skill, we don’t think, it’s working hard and trying to outwork everyone on the court.”
Longaker led the Cougars with 13 points and added 14 rebounds. But the monster rebounder was the “normal” 5-8 Calhoun who racked up 12 points and 22 rebounds, including 13 offensive boards, five of which led to immediate points.
“I think she did great tonight,” Longaker said. “Every rebound she got she didn’t even think twice. She just put it straight back up and didn’t even hesitate.”
The reason Longaker and Calhoun work so well together is a lifetime of learning each other’s moves. The duo started playing together 10 years ago in Catholic Youth Organization basketball and have been sharing the court every since.
“In practice, a lot of times we’ll scrimmage against each other,” Calhoun said. “So, we’ll just push each other to be the best that we can be.”
At the outset, it actually looked like Mills might be poised for a runaway performance. The Vikings opened with 5 straight points, with senior sharpshooter Aubrie Businger drilling a 3-pointer en route to scoring a game-high 15 points.
But HMB responded with an 11-2 run, fueled by an up-tempo defense that shut down the Mills offense. The two teams dueled through most of the first quarter, with the score tied at four different junctures. But an offensive rebound and put-back by Calhoun gave the Cougars a 15-13 lead, and sparked a nine-point run as HMB commanded a big lead for the remainder of the night.
The Vikings went on to shoot just 26.5 percent in the game, including just 2 of 13 from 3-point range, while getting outscored in every quarter. Sophomore guard Kaela Stonebarger, who finished with seven points, recorded the only other 3 for the Vikings on the night.
“I guess it was just that type of night where our shots weren’t going in,” Stonebarger said. “We were just missing.”
The pressure defense of HMB is a hybrid zone installed by head coach Antonio Veloso, who used to run the same defense when he coached at Division II University of Great Falls, Montana.
“We just call it a fast and furious,” Veloso said. “We just try to get this idea in their head of pushing the ball and trying to get traps and being aggressive.”
With each team committing 14 turnovers, the Vikings took care of the ball relatively well. They just could not penetrate on HMB’s strong interior defense.
“I think overall the whole game was rebounding,” Stonebarger said. “The fact that we didn’t have the heart to go after and get it. We needed to just focus on that a little more.”
HMB controlled the tempo of the game, impressing with a sharp passing tempo while outscoring Mills 20-13 in the opening quarter. At the outset of the second quarter, the Cougars were getting too fine with their multiple-passing looks in the half-court set. The upside to the Cougars’ distribution is they are, at their core, a group of unselfish players, as evidenced by four players averaging in double-digit scoring this season, according to Veloso.
Veloso, however, said he would like to see a little more killer instinct out of his shooters.
“They are unselfish, but sometimes they’re too unselfish where they pass up a shot they should (take) to give it up to another kid,” Veloso said.
With the elimination loss, Mills will look forward to the Central Coast Section playoffs, opening next Tuesday at a time and place to be determined. Last year, as the No. 7 seed in the Division III bracket, the Vikings advanced to the quarterfinals for the ninth time in the past 11 years. The Vikings last advanced past the quarterfinals in 2005, when they lost in the Division III championship game to St. Ignatius.
“We’re looking forward to going past quarterfinals this year,” Stonebarger said. “We’re trying to get to that championship like everyone else. We’re putting the hard work in and trying to get there.”
For the Cougars, they hope to continue riding the hot hand into Friday’s PAL semifinal matchup against South City at 3 p.m. at Hillsdale High School. South City, en route to winning the PAL North Division title, defeated HMB in both match-ups this season.
“That’s the problem with the way we play … we have these highs where you sit back and say, ‘This is something special,’” Veloso said. “And then you have these lows. … You’ve got to tame it a little bit. I think we had more highs than lows in this one, obviously.”