Gilda Rojas will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest scorers in the history of Calistoga High.
But to her credit, the girls basketball standout hasn’t checked the scorebook after a game once to see her numbers. If she did – more often than not – Rojas would find that she was the game’s top scorer, staring down at a line littered with 3’s and 2’s that signal a robust offensive performance.
She is the lone senior on the Wildcats’ roster, the unequivocal leader of this year’s team and, last week, she made history in a 49-26 win over visiting Potter Valley.
In the third quarter, Rojas cut along the baseline and turned Vanessa Queipo’s laser pass through the Bearcats’ defense into a layup, scoring her 12th and 13th points of the night. By sinking that basket, she surpassed 1,000 career points, becoming only the third player in school history to do so. The other two are Jackie Zink and Cathy Gregory.
Naturally, after being oblivious to her scoring output for years, the defending All-County Offensive Player of the Year had no idea she was nearing such a milestone. Everyone else, on the other hand, did.
“I was just shocked the entire time,” she said.
Once the basket went in, the referees paused the game as the team surrounded Rojas and head coach Cesar Cruz embraced her and handed her a bouquet of flowers. Even her mom came down from the stands to commemorate the achievement with her daughter.
Still, Rojas had no idea what was happening.
Then school staffer Dennis Rossi flipped on the microphone and announced the significance of the layup. That’s when Rojas’ face lit up. She looked in the stands and saw her classmates howling in support, holding up a banner that read “Congratulations GILDA 1K ROJAS.”
Coming into the game, she had scored 988 points over the course of her four years on varsity. The game plan for Cruz was to run the offense through Rojas, who plays shooting guard but also directs much of the action beside backcourt mate Lizbet Escobedo.
On most nights, that strategy tends to be a formula for success, and it was effective early on. Rojas scored nine points in the first quarter but only had one basket in the second, leaving her one point shy of the mark at halftime.
When the third quarter began, every shot attempt and subsequent miss was met by a massive sigh from Calistoga’s faithful.
“I was just super confused,” said Rojas. “I was like, ‘What’s going on with the crowd?’ And I told one of the girls on the team, I was like, ‘Why are they being like this? They’re never this excited about making points.’ Then I saw what they were doing, and the poster and the points, I had no idea about it.”
Added assistant coach Ray Particelli, “She had no idea that we were doing anything and she had no idea she was sitting on the opportunity to do it. I bet if you asked her, she would not be in hundreds of points of where she was. That always makes it fun, too.”
The decision to surprise Rojas came after a late-night chat between Calistoga’s coaches. Cruz said he knew she would likely reach the mark this season but had lost track during the campaign as the North Central League III title chase heated up.
The Wildcats (15-6 overall, 7-2 NCL III) were one game behind undefeated Laytonville heading into a Jan. 26 meeting in Calistoga. It was the second and final matchup of the season following a 30-point drubbing in Laytonville nine days prior.
The Warriors held off the Wildcats’ fourth-quarter rally that night, gaining the inside track on this year’s banner.
And with all the buildup surrounding that game, Cruz admitted he had completely forgotten about Rojas’ encroaching accomplishment.
“I had it in mind beginning of the year because I knew she was getting close,” he said. “But with Laytonville, first place, focusing on challenging for the league title, I totally forgot. To be honest with you, (two Sundays ago) I went back and thought, ‘Oh my god, I think she went over.’ Luckily she had a bad game against Laytonville.”
“Bad game” is debatable. Rojas finished with a game-high 16 points, five rebounds and four steals. This season, she’s scoring 17.9 points per game and leads the team in assists.
Rojas admits she “didn’t get serious about (basketball) until maybe last year. I was like, ‘OK, I really like playing,’ so I really got serious about it. But I never expected to hit 1,000 points.”
Over her career, she’s averaging 12.6 ppg and over 17 per night her junior and senior seasons. Rojas has also turned in six 30-point games and netted six or more 3-pointers in a game twice.
One of those performances was a comeback win against South Fork last season, as she hit a career-best seven 3-pointers and sank five in a row in the fourth quarter to spark the rally.
Her career-high is 37 points.
“It’s quite an accomplishment … 1,000 points are hard to come by,” Particelli said. “It doesn’t matter if you do it at Calistoga or Justin or Vintage or Napa – 1,000 points is a nice milestone. And it couldn’t happen to a better gal. She’s been kind of the glue of the team; she’s kind of set the tone for trying to take the next step (as a program), and trying to understand there’s a cost to be a competitor and there’s a cost for success.”
Cruz said he has a “special relationship” with Rojas. Since she’s the only senior on the team that also makes her the only player he’s coached all four years since taking the varsity job in 2014.
She was even the flower girl at his wedding last year.
“Gilda was not a natural talent. She always had speed,” Cruz said. “Her freshman year when I brought her up, I think I played her one of the games in the second half and, three possessions in a row, she dribbled with her left (hand) and it went off her left foot. I remember that encounter very well. I took her out and said, ‘You’ve got to work on your left,’ and she gave me this sassy look like, ‘Yeah whatever.’
“That’s where our relationship started. I’ve never had a relationship with a player like that, as well as it is with Gilda. We became respectful as a coach and as a player. We became close.”
Scoring 1,000 points is another unexpected accomplishment in what’s been a memorable senior year for Rojas. In November, she scored the game-winning goal in the second period of extra time to upset Rincon Valley Christian in the North Coast Section Division III soccer playoffs.
The team, as a whole, has a chance to make history, too, chasing down the school record for wins in a season (20). With four games left in league play and playoffs on the horizon, the Wildcats are in good position to break it.
For Rojas, either way, it’s already been a year for the books.
“I’m making all these pretty cool (milestones),” she said. “I’m hitting 1,000 points and I scored (the game-winning goal in the playoffs) … It’s cool ‘cause it’s my last year playing sports and then I’m going to college. So it’s a good way to kind of leave my legacy behind.”