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Calistoga High girls basketball

Calistoga High senior Gilda Rojas poses with the plaque she received for making the Gene Duffy Holiday Classic all-tournament team on Saturday.

Kirk Kirkpatrick photo

The Calistoga High School girls varsity basketball team improved on an earlier blowout loss to Morro Bay, but still fell short against the Pirates in Saturday morning’s Gene Duffy Holiday Classic Tournament third-place game, 39-24.

The Division 6 Wildcats (6-2) put up a game effort, but couldn’t match the size advantage of the visiting Division 4 Pirates (5-3), and finished second in the silver bracket to Morro Bay. Calistoga finished 3-2 for the tournament.

“I’m so much happier with our effort today – we make our two-footers and it would have been a different game,” observed Wildcats head coach Cesar Cruz following the game. “We had some good looks. We ran some good sets. We moved the ball much better, and had clear looks at the basket. Overall, I’m super happy.”

Both teams came out cold and it wasn’t until the 3:54 mark of the first quarter that Morro Bay opened the scoring. Calistoga got on the board at the 3:34 mark with an old-school, underhand free throw from Tully Lenord.

Calistoga got some good looks underneath, but the taller and more experienced Pirates front line swatted away nearly every attempt, forcing the Wildcats outside for longer shots. Vanessa Queipo’s jumper cut the early Pirates’ lead to 4-3, but that would be as close as Calistoga could get. The low-scoring first quarter ended with Morro Bay holding a 6-3 lead.

“We have our starting point guard today (rather than not available for academic reasons) and it’s a different game. As a result, we’re asking girls to play positions they don’t normally play,” said Cruz.

Wildcats co-coach Ray Particelli agreed the loss of an experienced point guard hurt the home side.

“We’re a D-6 team and we’ll never be three deep at every position, so hat’s off to the girls because they competed hard,” he said. “We didn’t want to show up scared today after losing to this team two nights ago. We wanted to play better and, despite having 10 freshmen and sophomores and only one senior, we did. They destroyed us just two days ago.”

The Pirates came out hot in the second quarter and ran off the first 13 points for a commanding 19-3 lead. Lenord finally scored at the 2:10 mark for Calistoga to halt the Morro Bay streak. Gilda Rojas hit a jump shot at the 30-second mark to make the halftime score 19-8 in favor of Morro Bay. Claire Gragson, an all-tournament power forward for the Pirates, led all scorers with six at halftime.

Morro Bay nailed a 3-pointer at the start of the third quarter and the Pirates extended their lead to 30-14 by the quarter’s end, despite two buckets by Rojas and one by Queipo, as the backcourt duo continued to lead the scoring for the locals. Calistoga kept the game within reach with a 5-point run to end the quarter.

The Wildcats showed a lot of heart by actually outscoring Morro Bay in the fourth quarter, 10-9, with Queipo again leading the way with a jumper and both ends of a one-and-one.

Queipo led the Wildcats with 11 points. Rojas, who was named to the all-tournament team, chipped in eight points. Lenord had three points and Laila Elkison scored two. Rojas, Calistoga’s only senior, had 24 points in an earlier Wildcats win over North Hills Christian.

Gragson, a polished forward, led all scorers with 16, scoring effectively from the outside and underneath.

Looking forward to his team’s next game with powerhouse Kelseyville, which defeated this same Morro Bay team by 36 points, Cruz said the squad would need to practice harder over the next three days.

“We obviously need to step up the intensity,” he said. “We definitely can’t turn over the ball as much against Kelseyville, ranked No. 9 in the state.”

Just the same, Cruz and Particelli were optimistic.

“The good thing for us is they run a man-to-man defense, and we run our man-to-man offense pretty well,” said Cruz.