A wild comeback was stopped before the finishing line as the Calistoga High girls basketball team fell to Laytonville, 47-40, Friday evening.
With two minutes remaining, the Wildcats were down only 40-38 after trailing by 14 at halftime, but a couple of youthful mistakes let the upset bid fall to the floor.
“They are a really good team,” Calistoga head coach Cesar Cruz said of the Warriors. “They are one of the top teams in the small school Division 6. After tonight, we feel we can beat anyone.”
It was a matchup of the top two teams in the North Central League III, with Laytonville (16-3, 8-0 NCL III) looking to take full control of the league title race. Just nine short days before, the Warriors had blasted the young Wildcats in Laytonville, 57-27.
It was Calistoga’s lone league loss coming into Friday’s more competitive rematch.
“We were fresher than last time we played them and we were also without our point guard (back then),” Cruz said. “Down by 14 points at halftime and we kept our composure and made it a ball game in the end. Not taking anything away from them today, but we just beat ourselves today.”
The Wildcats (13-6, 5-2 NCL III) had many opportunities in the first and second quarters, but weren’t able to take advantage of them. Laytonville started the game on a 9-2 run, even though Calistoga had taken more shots. The hosts missed many layups during the first quarter to give the visitors a 14-7 lead after the first frame.
“If we make our two-footers, it is a different ball game. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t go our way and we fell behind early again,” Cruz said. “I knew our girls were going to fight and we kept telling them the game is 32 minutes. We kept chipping down the score and it just didn’t go our way in the end.”
It quickly appeared that the Warriors would run away with the contest, just like they had the week before. Laytonville sports a much larger team than the Wildcats, as even the guards from the Warriors are bigger than some of Calistoga’s post players. The visitors outrebounded the Wildcats 47-33 on the game, but grew tired as the game went on.
“We didn’t do anything bad in the first half. We just weren’t hitting our shots,” Cruz said. “We just made sure the girls felt comfortable coming out of halftime.”
The game changed during the second half, as the Wildcats continued to scrap their way back into the contest. Leading the charge were team captains Vanessa Queipo and Gilda Rojas, as the duo attacked Laytonville on the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
Rojas finished with a game-high 16 points while pulling down five rebounds and nabbing four steals. Queipo scored nine of her 12 points after the break while pulling down six rebounds and passing out two assists. Calistoga scored 16 points in the third quarter, more than their total during the previous two quarters combined.
Calistoga only has one upperclassmen on its roster in senior Rojas, as the 10 other players are mainly sophomores. A player to watch out for in the future will be Tully Lenord, a 5-foot-11 freshman who picked up six quick rebounds in limited playing time, and sophomore Laila Elkeshen, who had nine points while snatching six rebounds.
The Wildcats trailed by only nine points heading into the final quarter.
Laytonville looked drained in the second half, appearing to have taken its foot off the gas at halftime. Over a four-minute span, the Wildcats slowly chipped away at the Warriors’ lead, and the hosts went from five points down to only two points with two minutes remaining.
But Tylo Smith hit four straight free throws to clinch the game late for Laytonville.
“Two minutes left in the game and we didn’t execute and they did,” Cruz said. “It is disappointing to lose, but overall I am really proud of my girls. We could have given in and lost again by 30 points, but we didn’t give in.”
The NCL III title is out of the Wildcats’ hands now, but Calistoga still has a strong chance of finishing second and heading toward its second straight CIF North Coast Section playoff appearance.
The Wildcats will welcome Potter Valley on Tuesday.
“Moving forward, we have eight games left,” Cruz said. “We are going to continue to get better and get ready for playoffs. We told them that we may play them again, and it will be satisfying to take them out of the playoffs.”