Division III of the Central Coast Section girls’ basketball playoffs has been a Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division showcase. Thursday’s second-round game at Mills High School was certainly no exception.
Facing off for the third time this season, visiting Burlingame showed why its overall record was not indicative of the kind of team it is. But even the Panthers’ tenacity wasn’t enough to avoid a season sweep, as Mills advanced to the quarterfinals with a 49-42 victory.
“It’s very tough to beat a team three times in one season,” Vikings’ coach Dave Matsu said.
The No. 12 Panthers (13-16) certainly made it so for the No. 5 Vikings (19-8) on Thursday despite never leading at any point of the game. Mills jumped out to an early 8-0 lead in the opening four minutes behind a scoring barrage by senior Lexie Chierichi. Chierichi scored four of the first eight points and finished the opening half with 10 points overall.
“Lexie did a great job for us in the first half,” Matsu said. “She really gave us a big spark.”
But Chierichi would only add three more points in the second half, leaving teammate Stefani Del Bianco to pick up the scoring slack in the second half. After scoring only five points in the first 16 minutes, Del Bianco erupted for 12 points in the second half, including a clutch 3-pointer with just under two minutes left in the game to turn away one final Panthers’ rally.
And the Panthers were constantly rallying back, falling behind by double-digits on several occasions only to rally back to within three or four points throughout the game. But Burlingame could never get any closer than four at 43-39 when Del Bianco drained the game-sealing shot and finished as the game’s leading scorer with 17 points. Kelly Chin added 11 points for the Vikings.
Burlingame got 11 points each from Dana Michaels and Kyla Montgomery and nine more from Nina Newman to lead the comebacks in the second half.
One concern for Matsu as Mills heads off for a quarterfinal showdown on Saturday against PAL Bay champion Terra Nova (23-4) is his team’s performance close to the basket.
“We missed 13 of 15 layups tonight,” Matsu said. “Terra Nova likes to press and we need to finish better than we did tonight.”
And while the Vikings completed the difficult three-game sweep, they go into Saturday having lost all three games they have played against Terra Nova this year.
“Let’s hope we can avoid four straight losses,” Matsu said. “Saturday would be a good time to do it.”