By Andrew Preimesberger
Palo Alto Online sports
Senior center Solomone Wolfgramm had a team-high 17 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Pinewood boys to a nail-biting 50-47 CIF NorCal Division V victory over visiting Branson on Tuesday night in Los Altos Hills.
Second-seeded Pinewood improved to 27-2 on the season while sixth-seeded Branson ended its season at 26-10.
The Panthers advanced to the NorCal championship game for the first time in 25 years and only the second time in school history.
"A great team win tonight against a very tough opponent," said Pinewood senior Cameron Helvey, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds in his final home game. "We played as one tonight, and that was the key to our victory. We're very excited to go to the NorCal championship and we'll be ready to go."
Pinewood defeated Branson in the Redwood Classic earlier this season (69-63). With the win Tuesday, the Panthers also avenged a quarterfinal loss to the Bulls in the 2010 NorCal playoffs.
"It feels great now," said Pinewood coach Jason Peery. "That team was an amazing team; somehow through three coaches they have rekindled that magic -- they were tough."
In a game where neither team led by more than five points, both squads got off to slow starts. Branson led by only 12-8 after the first quarter, but the Panthers used an 11-2 run to end the second quarter with the score 21-19. Wolfgramm and Helvey combined for 12 of Pinewood's 21 points.
Branson had a solid third quarter as senior guard Gabe Moynihan contributed eight points -- including two three-pointers -- and trimmed the Panthers' lead to one. Pinewood senior guard Bradley Naumann finished off the third quarter with a bang, hitting a three-pointer as time expired to give the Panthers a 40-39 lead.
"He's (Naumann) just a clutch player," said Peery. "He's made big threes all year in the biggest of moments and I'm not surprised at all, that was a huge momentum shifter."
Pinewood was down in the fourth quarter until Wolfgramm made a clutch put-back to tie the game at 47 with 1:08 to play. On Branson's next possession, senior Josh Gray was called for a critical five-second violation and turned the ball over with 1:00 remaining. Helvey made a huge put-back layup with 25 seconds left to put the Panthers up 49-47 and seal the win.
"It just feels great," said Wolfgramm. "Going up against a good team like that, we have a tremendous respect for them."
Branson shot 34 percent from the field while Pinewood was worse, at 27 percent. The Panthers, however, turned the ball over only eight time while the Bulls had 14 turnovers.
Pinewood, which is 7-0 this season in games decided by five points or less, will play for its first-ever state berth on Saturday against No. 1 seed St. Joseph Notre Dame (28-4) at Folsom High at 3 p.m. St. Joe's advanced with a 66-45 win over No. 3 Capital Christian.
The last time Pinewood played in a NorCal title game, Peery was a sophomore on the team.
Division IV boys
Third-seeded Sacred Heart Prep got 25 points from senior Cole McConnell and shocked No. 2 seed and host Modesto Christian, 57-57, in the semifinals on Tuesday night.
McConnell got 22 of his points in the first half as SHP grabbed a 37-32 lead at intermission. McConnell's biggest point came on a free throw with four seconds left to win the game. Ian Bennett's three-pointer with less than a minute to play put SHP on top, 57-55.
Modesto Christian tied it up before fouling McConnell, setting up the winning free throw.
The Gators (23-6) advanced to the NorCal finals for the first time in program history and will face top-seeded Salesian of Richmond (32-2) on Saturday at Folsom High at 7 p.m., with the winner advancing to the state finals at Power Balance Arena in Sacramento on March 23. Salesian advanced with an 80-41 romp over No. 13 Arcata.
Division V girls
The No. 2-seeded Eastside Prep girls' basketball team advanced to the CIF NorCal Division V championship game with a 47-41 victory over No. 3 St. Joseph Notre Dame (22-11) on Tuesday night in East Palo Alto.
The victory avenged last year's 45-38 loss to St. Joe's, when Eastside Prep was also the No. 2 seed and the Pilots were No. 3. Hashima Carothers, a sophomore last season, managed only three points in that season-ending loss.
Carothers redeemed herself with 18 points and 18 rebounds on Tuesday while her teammates provided solid defense once again. The Panthers took control with a 17-1 run between the third and fourth quarters. Sophomore Charmaine Bradford added 12 points while sparking the second-half rally by Eastside.
The Panthers (17-14) will play top-seeded Brookside Christian on Saturday at Folsom High at 1 p.m., with the winner advancing to the state finals at Power Balance Arena in Sacramento on March 24. Brookside Christian (28-4) ended Pinewood's season, 60-37.
In another Division V semifinal, Pinewood's streak of back-to-back state titles and three straight appearances in the state finale come to an end following a 60-37 loss to top-seeded Brookside Christian (28-4) on Tuesday at Cesar Chavez High in Stockton. The No. 5-seeded Panthers finished 20-13 with a young team that featured only two seniors on their 11-player roster.
Pinewood connected on only seven of 26 attempts from three-point range and suffered 18 turnovers. The Panthers trailed at the half, 33-16.
Freshman Gabi Bade led Pinewood with 12 points while junior Angelina Mapa added eight points for the Panthers.
Division I girls
For the past two months, Gunn has had a magical run as it shared a league title, won a Central Coast Section crown and was on the doorsteps of a NorCal final appearance for the first time ever.
All that came to an end, however, as the No. 7-seeded Titans fell to No. 3 Kennedy of Sacramento, 44-40, in the final seconds on Tuesday.
The toughest moment for the Titans was a questionable foul call on freshman Meghan Mahoney with 2.3 seconds remaining with the score tied at 40. That allowed Jessica Lauderdale of Kennedy to hit the two free throws that put Kennedy ahead.
"That was a tough call to end the game," said Gunn coach Sarah Stapp. "But I'm proud of the way our girls battled all night."
What made the decisive foul call difficult was the fact that Gunn's Julia Maggioncalda had tied the game at 40 on a three-pointer with 14 seconds left and then Gunn appeared to send the game in overtime when Kennedy's star player, Lynette Johnson, missed a shot with five seconds to go and Mahoney grabbed the rebound.
Lauderdale aggressively wrestled the ball away from Mahoney and made a motion toward the basket -- with Mahoney being called for a foul and Lauderdale awarded two free throws.
With the Gunn team and fans stunned by the call and a delirious Kennedy crowd delighting in their good fortune, Lauderdale basically ended the Titans' season at 21-7 with her two free throws that made it 42-40.
Gunn's ensuing inbounds pass went out of bounds and Kennedy got the ball back, with Lauderdale being fouled. She again made both free throws for the final points of the night.
The game featured much drama throughout the night as both teams had runs where it looked like they were in control of the game, only to see the other team answer.
Leading 31-28 to start the fourth, Kennedy got a three-pointer for a 34-28 lead. But, the Titans dug deep and baskets by Cat Perez and Mahoney cut the score to 34-32. After a Kennedy basket, Perez cut the margin to one at 36-35 when she was fouled on a basket and made the free throw with 3:53 left.
For nearly three minutes, Gunn's offense went cold, but a great defensive effort kept Kennedy close as Gunn only trailed 39-35 until Perez cut it to 39-37 with 1:03 remaining. Kennedy converted one of two three throws with 45 seconds left, setting up Maggioncalda's tying trey before the disappointing finish.
"Our girls did a great job staying composed," said Stapp. "When we went down by six early in the fourth we could have folded, but we didn't. This has been a real special group and it has been an incredible year."
The game featured stellar defense by both squads as Maggioncalda held Johnson to just 11 points. Kennedy also was strong in limiting Perez to nine points on the night.
In addition to Perez's points, Zwerling tallied 10, Maggioncalda scored seven, Mahoney totaled six and Claire Klausner and Redfield scored four apiece.
"Sharing a league title, the first-ever CCS title in basketball in school history and making a great run in NorCal has been great," said Stapp. "What has really been rewarding is having all the fans come out and support us. It has made such a difference for us all year long."
The past four years, Gunn has made three CCS title-game appearances along with three NorCal appearances. In addition, Gunn is the only public school in the past eight years (in girls' basketball) to make the NorCal semifinals twice.
Gunn will lose seniors Perez, Maggioncalda, Jordan Humble and Hannah Riley off the third-winningest team in program history.