With his team battered, bruised and a bit short-handed, Larry Price didn’t expect anything less of the plucky Florin Panthers on Thursday night.
The veteran coach implored effort and, with sweat pouring off his face, he emphasized his point during two early timeouts. He also insisted that everyone play with poise. The Panthers heard the messages like a stereo blast and responded, downing visiting Christian Brothers 60-50 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III second-round playoff game.
Dalayna Sampton, Florin’s terrific fourth-year senior starting forward-center, had 16 points, 15 rebounds and four steals to set the tone. Freshman guard Julie Saeleescored 15 points two nights after going for 20 in a win over Dixon, displaying an array of inside and outside shooting in both games.
Jikara Sellers, a sophomore guard, had 11 points, and senior point guard Kynnidi Ricardo had seven points, five steals and six assists for the Panthers, who moved to 10-1 at home and advanced to Tuesday’s semifinals at Cosumnes River College against top-seeded Vanden.
A year after advancing to the Northern California D-II semifinals, the Panthers (20-9) expect a similar run next month in D-III. Sampton is the primary piece back, with Ricardo returning to action after missing last season with a knee injury. Florin, battling injuries and illness lately, expects to be at full strength next week.
“We have all the pieces to do great things,” said the Hawaii-bound Sampton. “We have bigs, we have guards, and we have shooters. I just love this feeling, us playing well with this chemistry.”
Ricardo agreed, adding, “We’re talking championship.”
As for Price, the tireless seventh-year coach?
“Oh, we love Coach,” Ricardo said. “He’s just a big old teddy bear who wants the best from us.”
Price said he appreciates the efforts of all of his players. He’s also promoting Sampton, one of the top players in the section.
“Dalayna Sampton for Sacramento Bee Player of the Year, and I’m sending a shout-out,” the affable Price said with a laugh. “She tutors students here after school in geometry. She’s a 4.5 student. She’s a great player. She’s everything anyone would want in a student-athlete leader.”
CBS coach Ron Gulley has a lot of returning talent to build off this 18-11 campaign, including junior center Kira McKechnie, who scored 14 points with 10 rebounds, and freshman guard Kalani Mark, who had 14 points.
Before the game, McKechnie’s father, Kenny McKechnie, tracked down Florin athletic director George Smith to recount old stories. McKechnie’s brother Kevin, Kira’s uncle, was a Bee All-Metro quarterback for Smith when he coached CBS in the early 1990s.
Smith mirrored the efforts of the teams with nonstop activity. He set up the gym, announced the starting lineups, mopped the floor at halftime, applauded good plays and broke the gym back down.
All in a night’s work.
McClatchy 59, Nevada Union 44 –Jordan Cruz scored 12 points, mostly from outside, and inside players Destiny Lee and Gigi Garcia combined for 18 points and 20 rebounds for the upstart Lions, who led 30-14 early in Grass Valley in bouncing the Miners, ranked No. 1 by The Bee, in D-I.
Pleasant Grove 49, Napa 39 – The Eagles topped the host Indians, who came in 27-1, to set up a Delta River League D-I semifinal against rival Oak Ridge, which beat Enochs of Modesto 64-33 behind Ali Bettencourt’s 21 points. Kim Schmelz scored 16 for Pleasant Grove, and Brittany Nguyen and Aaliyah Pena had 11 and 10, respectively.