This is a friendly, often giddy group of girls – only outside of competition.
Otherwise, come game time, the McClatchy Lions are a pesky, hounding, defensive-minded lot that revels at the chance to defeat foes with effort and fundamentals.
Using man defense, sharing the ball on offense and generally finding a new gear at the right time, The Bee’s top-ranked team beat No. 2 Oak Ridge 56-40 on Tuesday night in a Sac-Joaquin Division I semifinal at Pacific.
McClatchy (23-6) wanted to throw a different look at an Oak Ridge (25-4) team that can speak of the benefits of hustle and teamwork in winning its previous 14games . Lions coaches Jessica Kunisaki and Jeff Ota, one-time standout guards at the Sacramento City Unified School District program, were delighted with the results of their team’s tenacious man defense, including 5-foot twin guards Kelsey and Kristi Wong working against much taller players. Guard/wings Lauren Nubla, Jordan Cruz, Sara Shimizu and Alex Washington also got into the defensive act as McClatchy came up with 14 steals while Oak Ridge had 22 turnovers and shot 27 percent.
Inside, the Lions were paced by front-court pals Gigi Garcia and Destiny Lee. Garcia, a versatile junior generating scores of Pacific-12 Conference recruiting interest, had 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals. Lee had seven points and five rebounds, and Washington had 11 points, including three three-pointers.
Isamar Conde led Oak Ridge with 16 points and Hailey McCoy scored 10. A winner of 13 in a row, McClatchy is in a section final for the first time since 2008, having won it in 2007. The Lions take on nationally ranked No. 4 St. Mary’s of Stockton (29-1), which beat Davis in the other semifinal. Oak Ridge, which reached last season’s D-I final, still advances to the NorCal tournament that starts next week.
“Oh man, so proud,” Kunisaki said of her team. “We really put our heart and soul into our defense. To hold that team to 12 first-half points (for a 28-12 lead) is something. We’re peaking at the right time. It’s great to see.”
Kunisaki had twin brother Joel scout Oak Ridge of late, looking for insight on tendencies. And what Oak Ridge found was McClatchy competes at a frenetic pace, so much so the Lions gleefully compare welts like badges of honor.
“We compare bruises,” Washington said. “We give it our all. We’ll go, ‘Oh look, I have a bruise here, or here.’ We have them on elbows, legs, shins, shoulders. That’s who we are.”
Kunisaki wants her team to be even better, and the Lions will have to be in order to topple St. Mary’s, winner of seven successive section titles in various divisions. McClatchy missed nine free throws and several inside shots that rimmed out. St. Mary’s feasts on such mistakes.
▪ No. 3 Kimball of Tracy used a 13-3 late run to beat second-seeded Antelope 59-49 and improve to 30-0, the best record in Northern California this season.
Allison Schmidt and Raziya Potter scored 18 points each for Kimball, a newer school that went 1-26 in 2011. Nadia Johnson scored 22 for Antelope (26-2), which had its 17-game winning streak halted. Sister Nia Johnson scored 11.
▪ In the other semifinal, top-seeded Modesto Christian (26-4) closed with a 13-0 run and held No. 4 Del Oro scoreless over the final 3:38 for a 63-48 semifinal victory to extend its winning streak to 16.
Candice White, a year after ACL surgery, had 20 points for Modesto Christian, which won D-III section, NorCal and state titles last season. Lauren Heyn had 22 points and 13 rebounds and Hannah Jordan had 17 and 13 for Del Oro (23-6), which will advance with Antelope to next week’s NorCal round, albeit as lower seeds.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.