NORTH NATOMAS — The Elk Grove Thundering Herd girls basketball team was down 9-0 to the Sacramento High School in the first quarter of the NorCal Division II Finals, but head coach Larry Price kept his team calm under the pressure.
The Thundering Herd ended the first quarter down 11-4 and before the second quarter began, Price gave his team an ultimatum that proved to be the difference. Price said, “I need you to be disciplined going forward. You have to be to win this game.”
Elk Grove (24-10) responded to its coaches instructions and went on to beat the favorite Sac High Dragons 46-45 and claim the D-II championship at Sleep Train Arena on March 19. The Thundering Herd advances to the state finals on March 26 in the same facility.
“In the first quarter we had no composure and we had no discipline in what we were doing,” Price said following the game. “We had to get them to breath and loosen up to start playing defense the way that we play it. We also had to make smart decisions with the basketball on the offensive end.”
Mira Shulman led Elk Grove with 14 points, three rebounds and two steals. Arianna Daniel had eight points, 11 rebounds and two steals while Paiton Demps, who said she grabs missed basketballs “by instinct,” added 10 points, 15 rebounds and two steals for the Thundering Herd.
“Our coach (Price) was like, ‘just keep me in the game,’” Demps said of fallen behind the Sac High Dragons early in the game. Elk Grove trailed 22-15 at the half. “He said just keep it close and that’s what we tried to do,” Demps stated.
Freshman Adriana Avent had 15 points and nine rebounds for Sac High (25-10). Sophomore Richelle Tourney finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists and senior Alicheah Hernandez had eight points and eight rebounds in her final game as a Dragon.
Sac High was 2-for-17 from beyond the 3-point line, Hernandez made them both, while the rest of the team was 0-for-11. Sac High coach Michelle Massari saw some positives in the loss from her young squad that features six freshmen.
“I think we hurt ourselves in the third and fourth quarter,” Massari said. “I’m disappointed? Yes. But I am proud of all 14 kids who have fought to get here. It’s not easy to get to this game. We we’re one point away from a state championship. I know my sophomore and freshman will be extremely hungry to get back to this point. I guarantee we will back.”
The Dragons are 1-4 in Nor Cal finals appearances. The Thundering Herd made good on their first trip to the NorCal finals and hopes to finish out with a victory over the Southern California Division II winners, Cajon. Cajon beat Mater Dei 51-30 at Long Beach State University to advance to the state championships on March 26.
“There is nothing really new that we can throw in,” Price said of preparing for Cajon. “It’s just basically going out there and putting up shots. My team shoots about an hour and 45 minutes of our practices. Believe me, I think we need to move it up to about three hours now.”
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer