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PETALUMA – A shorthanded Calistoga girls’ basketball team gave St. Vincent a run for its money in the North Central League IV opener on Tuesday, but the Mustangs used a late run to put the Wildcats away 40-34.

Down to only six players because of injuries and eligibility issues – including point guard Lizbeth Escobedo – the Wildcats (5-6, 0-1 NCL IV) found themselves trailing by only two in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. They had trailed for the majority of the game and were behind by seven entering the final frame.

They slowly whittled down the host’s lead to 30-28, but the Mustangs (8-7, 1-0 NCL IV) responded with an 8-1 run over the following three minutes to put the game out of reach of any last-ditch Calistoga rally.

“We’re never going to lose for a lack of effort,” said head coach Ray Particelli. “We’re going to play hard, we’re going to do what we can, but it ties in lot with us not having a point guard anymore. We weren’t sure how bad that would hurt us –I was pretty sure it was going to hurt us I just didn’t know how bad – and that was the difference in the game. We turned the ball over a bunch of times with just mediocre pressure.”

The Wildcats will probably be without Escobedo for the rest of the season as she deals with eligibility issues. In her stead, juniors Vanesa Quiepo and Litzy Infante shared point guard duties on Tuesday with mixed results.

Queipo scored nine points but turned the ball over repeatedly. Infante was held scoreless while she too battled the turnover bug. Neither has experience playing point guard at the varsity level and it showed. Particelli said he hopes the two are fast learners because he thinks their season rides on the play of their guards.

“I can call one a point guard and one an off guard, but just because they’re in that position doesn’t mean that that’s who they are, and they’re not,” Particelli said. “But they’re going to have to at least pretend to be for the next month.”

One bright spot for the Wildcats was the play of Tully Leonard. The 5-foot-11 sophomore was all over the boards and scored a team-high 14 points mainly off offensive rebounds.

“She had a great game. She got after the glass and we told her we need her to be a lot more offensive-minded and to go to the rim more,” Particelli said. “She did miss a handful of putbacks but when you figure we scored 34 points, she was a huge part of that.”

The girls will get back to action on Friday when they visit Roseland University Prep for a nonleague contest. Tipoff is 5 p.m.

Boys: St. Vincent 42 – Calistoga 25

Also playing shorthanded, and with as many JV call-ups as regular varsity players, the Calistoga boys basketball team held with St. Vincent for a quarter before falling behind by double digits at the half.

A 9-7 Calistoga first quarter lead flipped into a 31-15 St. Vincent lead at the break, which was all the room that the Mustangs needed to close out the visiting Wildcats.

The Wildcats (4-10, 0-1 NCL IV) gave up a 7-0 run to the Mustangs (4-12, 1-0 NCL IV) in the opening minutes of the second quarter and the hosts ended the first half with a 12-2 run that put the game out of reach.

“We played hard but there’s no question to me why we lost: we left 20 points out there in missed layups and turned the ball over 20 times,” Particelli said. “We take care of the ball and make our layups and this one goes down to the wire, and that’s a good thing because it’s something we can address and work to fix.”

The pitfalls were not all that surprising give Calistoga’s current roster situation. On Tuesday, they played without leading scorer Cesar Ayala (out for a few weeks with a sprained ankle), starting point guard Christian Caldera (still on vacation with family) and junior wing Jesus Mendoza (partially torn ACL). On top of that, they called up two players from the boys JV team, Yuli Caballero and Ignacio Mendoza, who got their first varsity experience of their young careers.

“Shoutout to my JV kids who came up. They played great,” Particelli said. “They didn’t play scared, they were right in the middle of stuff and gave us great minutes and at least allowed us to have a sub and a sixth man.”

To top it off, the Wildcats played transfer Joey Russo at point guard. Not only was it his season debut after sitting out the entire preseason due to state transfer rules, but it was also the first varsity game of his career.

All this considered, Tuesday could have been much worse for the Wildcats.

Senior Jasiel Flores scored a team-high 11 points and Russo added eight in his first game for Calistoga.

Even with the odds against them, the Wildcats played even with the larger and more-polished Mustangs for the entirety of the second half. The Mustangs struggled to hit shots over the final two quarters, scoring only 11 points over the remaining 16 minutes. But the Wildcats simply could not take advantage of the offensive struggles as they scored only 10 points in the second half.

“The defense did a solid job and they were bigger than us at all positions,” Particelli said. “There were definitely mismatches without us switching, then once we had to do that then there were horrible mismatches and we still did a pretty solid job. I was very pleased with that.”

The Wildcats return to action Friday when they travel to Roseland University Prep for a nonleague contest. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

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Sports Reporter