By Ray Hamill — They had to fight a little harder this time around, but the rewards were even greater.
On Saturday night, for the second straight weekend, St. Bernard’s hosted Cloverdale in a girls basketball playoff game, and for the second straight weekend they came out on top.
But after dominating the Eagles the first time in a 20-point win, the home team had to battle all the way in this one, eventually winning out 46-34.
The win sends the No. 1 Crusaders on to the NorCal Division-V championship game on Tuesday, while No. 4 Cloverdale’s season comes to an end.
“I’m really proud of the poise the girls showed,” a delighted St. Bernard’s head coach Mark Gardner said. “That’s a very good team, and I don’t think last week’s loss was indicative of them.”
Unlike last week, when they held a sizable advantage throughout, this time the Crusaders led by just three points early in the fourth quarter, before pulling away late.
A combination of some poor shooting from the home team at times, and some strong defense from the visitors, kept the game close throughout.
At the same time, the Crusaders never really appeared in danger of losing.
They never trailed, and led almost the entire game once they took an opening minute lead, except for a brief spell of 20 seconds midway through the second period when the visitors squared things up at 10-10.
Jasa Sisemore quickly re-established the advantage with a free throw, and the Crusaders closed out the half on an 11-3 run to lead by eight at the interval.
The third quarter, however, belonged to the visitors, as the Crusaders continued to have problems establishing much rhythm on offense.
The Eagles outscored St. Bernard’s 13-10 for the period, and then got the first basket of the fourth quarter to close within three.
The St. Bernard’s players, however, never got flustered and played composed basketball down the stretch.
The three senior captains once again stepped up to lead the way, fighting hard to keep their prep careers going.
No one more so than Emily Gardner, who battled hard all night in the paint, and finished with 18 points, draining all six attempts from the free-throw line.
Jasa Sisemore also stepped up, scoring a couple of big baskets in the fourth as the Crusaders began to take control, with a three-point play putting her team up by 13 at the 4:20 mark.
There was no way back for a tenacious Eagles team after that.
Tehya Bird again led Cloverdale with a game-high 19 points, including 10 in the third quarter alone to key the second-half surge.
Maddie Costa was also inspirational for the home team, scoring 13, including three big 3-pointers.
St. Bernard’s Josie Peterson was outstanding defensively, coming up with multiple huge takeaways in the first half, and continuing to frustrate the visiting offense throughout.
“They’re so tough,” Mark Gardner said of his players. “They are so tough.”
The head coach also praised his players for their defensive performance.
“Defensively our girls really understand our scheme so well,” he said. “And they work so hard within that scheme.”
Crusaders prepare for Caruthers
The Eagles have lost just twice in their past 23 games, both times to St. Bernard’s, including last weekend’s North Coast Section championship game.
The Crusaders improved to 26-6, while Cloverdale closes out 27-6.
St. Bernard’s will now play No. 3 seed Caruthers, which defeated No. 10 Gridley 57-50 in the other NorCal semifinal on Saturday.
Caruthers comes in with a record of 30-4.
The winner of Tuesday’s NorCal championship will advance to Friday morning’s state championship.
“We’re really excited to be in a regional championship game,” Mark Gardner said. “We’ll do our best.”
The game will be played at 7 p.m. at St. Bernard’s.