It’s been a long time coming for Sequoia.
The last time the Lady Cherokees advanced to the Peninsula Athletic League girls’ basketball championship game was in 2006.
Now, head coach Steve Picchi’s team is sitting pretty as the class of the PAL, dethroning reigning champion South City with a 43-33 victory at Sequoia Tuesday night.
The lockdown Sequoia zone defense didn’t allow South City to penetrate for the better part of the night. And while the Cherokees had trouble getting the ball into the post as well, they didn’t need to, thanks to the hot hand of sophomore Caitlin Dulsky.
“We were just trying to swing it around as much as possible,” Dulsky said, “and trying to get our guards open. We kept looking at the post but they guarded the way they did. And we found our guards open the most, so we just did that.”
With the game tied 12-12 after one quarter of play, Dulsky knocked down three 3-pointers in the second, starting and finishing an 18-1 Sequoia run.
“They fed me the ball and I was just feeling it tonight,” Dulsky said.
And while Sequoia’s formidable post tandem of senior center Soana Afu and junior forward Talita Falepapalangi sealed up any seam South City tried to run through underneath, the Cherokees’ really set the tone up top defensively.
What Afu and Falepapalangi do in the paint, sophomore guards Jacqueline Kurland and Alexis Jackson do just as well up top — if not better on Tuesday night.
“Everyone talks about their post defense because it’s so great,” South City head coach Paul Carion said. “But it’s [Jackson]. She just makes you take wide angles. .., So, the shots aren’t there. The angles aren’t there.”
Jackson had a career night in Monday’s semifinal win over Terra Nova, totaling 12 steals. Tuesday against South City, the sophomore picked up right where she left off, totaling seven steals on the night, including five as the Cherokees put the game away in the second half.
Still, the Lady Warriors were in it after eight minutes of play, and evened the score heading into the second quarter thanks to some South City magic.
Sophomore point guard Alex Salise scored a game-high 13 points, eight of them coming in the opening quarter. And just after Jackson improved Sequoia’s lead to 12-9 on a dribble-drive with four seconds left in the quarter, Salise loaded up from half court and heaved a buzzer-beater 3 to tie it, setting the Warriors off in an on-court celebration.
“That was a pretty good shot,” Carion said. “Then it’s 12-12, and I look up and it’s 30-13. And that’s what they do.”
Dulsky hit three 3s in the second quarter, and Kurland added another. The Cherokees shot just 30 percent from the field throughout, but were 7 of 14 in the second quarter, including 4 of 5 from 3-point land.
After the break, Sequoia slowed the tempo and converted just one field goal in all the second half. But Kurland’s ball-control savvy — she spent five straight possessions going right at Salise in a spirited showing of 1-on-1 prowess by both, that ate up a lot of clock for Sequoia — won the day.
That, and Afu’s free-throw shooting. The senior was 9 of 10 from the stripe, including 7 of 8 in the second half. As a team, Sequoia hit 11 free throws in the second half.
“I was just two steps slow on everything I did,” Carion said. “They hit shots. I should have jumped out of the zone quicker. They’re so big, I was scared of getting in foul trouble, which we were in.”
Senior center Becca Tasi — the PAL North Division MVP — finally got going in the fourth quarter. She totaled nine points and eight rebounds, with six points and seven rebounds coming in the final period. She spent much of the first three periods sitting out after getting into foul trouble.
“I was proud of the girls, I was proud of the effort,” Carion said. “You get outscored 18-1 and, you know what? A lot of teams would fold, and we didn’t.”