By Ray Hamill — As expected, both the St. Bernard’s and Del Norte girls each won their opening game in the North Coast Section basketball playoffs on Wednesday night.
And they both did it with a dominating performance.
In Division IV, the No. 2 Del Norte girls defeated No. 15 Gateway by a score of 70-22, while in Division V, the No. 1 St. Bernard’s girls defeated No. 16 Branson 58-26.
Also in action on Wednesday night, in Division IV, the No. 10 Fortuna girls fell 72-65 at No. 7 Urban in San Francisco despite a big second-half comeback, while in Division VI, No. 6 Ferndale fell 35-31 at home to No. 11 Potter Valley, and No. 7 South Fork defeated No. 10 San Francisco Waldorf 44-39.
Branson 26, St. Bernard’s 58
Two things stood out from the Crusaders’ dominating win on Wednesday.
One, they look like they fully deserve the top seed, and two, the NCS looks like it made a mistake leaving Hoopa Valley out of the playoff field.
The Crusaders quickly took control of this one, pulling out to a 17-6 lead after the opening quarter and stretching the advantage to 21 by halftime.
Defensively, they held the visitors to single digits in all four quarters and didn’t miss a step when head coach Mark Gardner went deep to his bench in the second half.
“Credit our girls for really moving the ball well tonight,” the head coach said. “I was very proud of their passing and unselfish play.”
Even considering Branson was playing without its leading scorer, this matchup was a massive mismatch.
St. Bernard’s Little 4 rivals Hoopa Valley was left out of the playoff field on Sunday, with a lack of wins against Division-V opposition reportedly cited as one of the reasons.
But the Warriors would have been far more competitive than the Branson girls, having pushed the Crusaders all the way in their league finale.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter much who the opposition was, the Crusaders looked like a team on a mission.
And they turned in a very balanced performance, with Josie Peterson, Jasa Sisemore and Emily Gardner each scoring 10, Breanna Silvers eight, and Maddie Costa seven.
Silvers left the game late with a knee injury.
“It was fun to get everybody on the court tonight and it was nice to have everybody contribute to the victory,” Mark Gardner said.
The Crusaders (20-6) will host No. 9 St. Vincent de Paul on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Gateway 22, Del Norte 70
It was little more than a practice game on Wednesday for the Warriors, whose starters saw just limited minutes in this lopsided opener.
“We did what we had to do,” said Del Norte head coach Justin Clifton, whose team improved to 22-2.
Kaleya Sanchez paced the home team with 21 points, setting the tone early with 17 of her tally in the opening half.
Jadence Clifton added 15 points, Bella Stone 11 and senior Shelby Horner nine.
The head coach went deep to his bench in the second half, giving some of his less experienced players some valuable varsity playoff minutes.
“It was good experience for them,” he said.
The Del Norte girls will now host Urban on Saturday at 7 p.m.