Mercy win keeps its CCS streak intact 

Mercy’s Nia Ilalio (50) was extremely efficient Thursday, finishing with 15 points on just 5-of-6 shooting from the floor. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Mercy’s Nia Ilalio (50) was extremely efficient Thursday, finishing with 15 points on just 5-of-6 shooting from the floor.

This year’s edition of the Mercy High School girls’ basketball team hasn’t quite lived up to the program’s recent standard of putting together 20-win seasons, but it extended an impressive streak nonetheless on Thursday night.

With a 49-42 win over visiting Half Moon Bay in the Central Coast Section Division IV playoffs, the seventh-seeded Skippers have now won a CCS tournament game in nine consecutive seasons.

Mercy (11-16) came into the game with a sub-.500 regular-season record for the first time in at least 12 seasons and finished fifth in the hyper-competitive Foothill Division of the West Bay Athletic League.

“It was a very difficult season, but at least the WBAL competition prepared us for games like this,” Mercy coach Michael Gutierrez said. “We’ve had four games in the WBAL where we’ve lost by five points or less. We’re young, and young at the critical positions, but we have been getting better.”

Mercy forward Nia Ilalio entered the contest averaging a near double-double and did not disappoint on Thursday. Despite foul trouble in the second half, the 5-foot-10 junior scored 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting and hit all four of her shots from the floor in the second half, while also taking in 12 rebounds.

Senior guard Christina Haight, Mercy’s leading scorer, also poured in 17 points, including 13 in the second half with Half Moon Bay charging back from a 19-10 halftime deficit.

The unseeded Cougars (15-12) took two separate leads in the third quarter, but Mercy took control with an 8-0 run that started with a buzzer-beating runner by sophomore Nelly Escobar at the end of the third frame and never surrendered the lead again. Half Moon Bay cut the Mercy advantage to 42-38 with 46 seconds remaining, but Haight scored five points in the final 27 seconds to put the game away.

“It was no surprise that Haight hit those clutch free throws in the fourth quarter or that Nia hit another big shot late,” Gutierrez said. “These seniors — Christina more than anybody — deserved better than what we did in that first half.”

The first half was unquestionably ugly for both teams, as Half Moon Bay committed 20 turnovers and Mercy had 19, but it fit right into the Cougars’ game plan. Half Moon Bay applied constant pressure on Mercy’s guards and imposed a fast pace on the game, but could not limit its own turnovers (34 overall) and fully recover from a 10-point first half.

Senior guard Chandra Anderson was Half Moon Bay’s most consistent scoring threat and finished with 12 points, but it was senior McKenna Hilton’s 12 second-half points that spurred the third-quarter comeback.

“We sped the game up, which is what we wanted to do,” Half Moon Bay coach Antonio Veloso said. “We just couldn’t capitalize on their turnovers.

We all felt it [during the third quarter] — but our minds felt it and our legs didn’t. We just ran out of gas.

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