The top-seeded Vintage High girls basketball team rolled over visiting No. 4 seed Justin-Siena for its 20th win of the season in the first round of the inaugural Vine Valley Athletic League Tournament on Wednesday night.
It was the third time the regular season-champion Crushers had beaten the Braves this season and second time in three nights, having edged them 49-46 on Monday night at Justin-Siena.
Vintage head coach Joe Donohoe was very pleased to sweep the season series with its cross-highway rival.
“Justin is a tough out for us. They know us very well. It’s hard to beat anyone three times in a season,” the coach said. “But our defensive mentality defines us and we’ve held teams to 30 or less points several times this season.”
Nicole Gleeson recorded her first double-double of the season in leading the Crushers with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“I hadn’t had a double-double yet so this might have been my best game,” she observed.
Gleeson was all over the floor for Vintage, blocking shots, making steals and setting up teammates. All five of Gleeson’s baskets came on fast break lay-ups.
“We haven’t been doing that a lot lately, so it was good to see us start doing that again,” Gleeson added.
Added Donohoe, “Nicole is so fast no one can keep up with her on the fast break, and a lot of times she’s the one who created the turnover that leads to her breakaway.”
The Braves’ offensive machine known as Ashlee Whittemore came into the game averaging over 19 points per game and led all scorers with 18. Whittemore’s long 3-pointer from the top of the key gave Justin-Siena its only lead of the night, 18-16, with just under a minute remaining in the first half.
“I thought we did some really nice things in the first half,” noted Braves’ head coach Andy Bettencourt.
Whittemore entertained the crowd with a variety of long threes, running jump shots, and even a left-handed floater driving through the lane that found nothing but net.
“We did everything we could to slow her down,” admitted Donohoe, “but she’s a tremendous player and tonight she made tough shot after tough shot.”
As the Crushers often do, they started fast and had raced out to a 10-4 lead by the end of the first quarter. Whittemore led the Braves’ comeback in the second quarter, when she swished the first 3-pointer of the game with five minutes remaining. Justin-Siena would have led at halftime were it not for Maya Sapienza’s long three with 10 seconds remaining that gave Vintage a lead it would not relinquish.
Vintage seemed to find its rhythm after halftime and led 31-20 after three quarters. The highlight of the quarter for the Crushers came when the ever-present Gleeson made a diving save of a ball headed out of bounds. She somehow managed to steer it to a wide-open Alyssa Andrews, who canned a long 2-pointer on the play.
“I never have to worry about the effort I get from my players,” Donohoe said.
But the visitors showed plenty of heart by coming out and scoring the first six points of the fourth quarter. Whittemore scored on a breakaway, Karlie Wells canned two free throws, and Isabella Wright made a tough putback. But true to form on this night, it was Gleeson who scored the next four points for the Crushers and put the game out of reach.
Both coaches are looking to forward to North Coast Section postseason play after the VVAL Tournament concludes with a 5:30 p.m. final Friday at American Canyon. Vintage will play No. 2 seed Casa Grande, a 56-53 winner Wednesday over No. 3 seed Napa High. Vintage and Casa Grande split their season series, so this will be the rubber match.
“We’d like to get our first league tournament championship. That’s what we’re after,” said Donohoe, whose Crushers (20-6 overall) won the first VVAL title in their sports with a record of 11-1. Vintage won the Monticello Empire League title last season.
Along with Gleeson’s double-double for Vintage, Andrews chipped in with 11 points and three rebounds, Kate Ilsley had eight points and seven rebounds, Mo Groves had four points and five rebounds, and Ellie Savage and Sapienza each had three points.
Whittemore led Justin-Siena (13-14, 5-7 VVAL) with 18 points and five rebounds, Isabella Wright had six points and two rebounds, Ella Thatcher had four points, and Karlie Wells added two points and five rebounds.
Donohoe said it’s likely Vintage will get a home game in the first round of the NCS Division I playoffs when the draw is announced Sunday. Bettencourt said it’s likely Justin-Siena will get seeded sixth, seventh or eighth in Division IV, as the Braves were automatic qualifiers by virtue of their .500-or-above record against other Division IV teams.
“We’re excited to keep our seniors playing as long as we can,” Bettencourt said, adding that he enjoyed his team’s first season in the VVAL. “I like the new league. Obviously we would have liked to have a little better record, but I like the competition and especially the proximity of the teams. These kids all know each other and grew up playing together.”
“It was fun to play against the local teams,” agreed Whittemore, “kind of like old times because we all know each other.”