DANVILLE — There were no celebratory screams, no teammates jumping joyously into one another’s arms, no reveling in San Ramon Valley’s 49-47 victory over visiting Carondelet in the East Bay Athletic League tournament title game.
There was only relief.
The victorious Wolves had just watched Carondelet miss a layup, a put-back and then one last desperation 3-pointer on a final possession that lasted about 10 seconds in reality but seemed to play out over several hours to those on the court.
“Even coming off the court after the buzzer rang, I was shook,” said San Ramon Valley forward Sofia Bowes, who scored eight points, “Sometimes those fall, and sometimes they don’t, so we were lucky that the things that were not in our control fell the way we wanted them to.”
— Joseph Dycus (@joseph_dycus) February 11, 2024
On a night when the boys team won its tournament championship at De La Salle, the girls secured the double by winning both the regular season and tournament crowns.
Considering how the teams’ last playoff matchup concluded, it was only fitting Saturday’s game wasn’t decided until the final buzzer.
Carondelet was an independent last season, so the teams didn’t meet until the NorCal Division I playoffs. That ended dramatically when the referees waved off the Cougars game-tying 3-pointer, deeming the attempt too late.
“Every single game we play against SRV is going to be a hell of a game,” said Carondelet guard Keshia Vitalicio, who scored 12 points.
San Ramon Valley scored the first seven points of Saturday’s game, but once Carondelet answered with five quick points, it was clear the EBAL title game was destined to be another classic. The teams were tied at 11 after one quarter.
The Cougars jumped out to a 16-11 advantage to start the second, but energetic guard Tera Chen keyed the SRV comeback. She hit a triple to cut the deficit to one, and scored a pair of layups in transition and a mid-range shot to help the Wolves increase its lead to 25-19.
Although Chen’s 12 points were crucial, it was her defense that made the biggest impact on the game. Her tenacious on-ball defense against Lehigh-bound Carondelet guard Vitalicio made it difficult to for the Cougars to get into their halfcourt sets.
“I kind of fill in gaps,” said Chen, who coach John Cristiano said is the best defensive player in the league. “Everyone on the team can score, and I do my best to assist others and take my chances when I can.”
SRV’s Bowes cashed in a 3-pointer and Sierra Chambers snaked through defenders before beating the buzzer with a layup to put SRV up 41-34 after three quarters.
The Wolves stretched that lead to 46-34 once Chambers rolled in another layup and three free throws. The senior point guard scored a team-high 17 points.
Vitalicio answered that run with five quick points of her own to cut the deficit to 46-42. And with a minute and a half left in the game, Layla Dixon made a layup to keep it a four-point game.
“When we got it to 11 and 12 points, I felt pretty good,” Cristiano said. “I didn’t think it would come back to two or three, but we blew a couple of really good chances to get it back to six, seven or eight points.”
A SRV crowd ready to celebrate was drowned out by a raucous Carondelet section who roared with approval when Kamil Reid’s and-1 layup cut the deficit to just one point with 20 seconds left.
When SRV split the ensuing free throws, the Wolves watched the Cougars clank three straight shots and escaped with the dramatic victory.
“I don’t think anything was going through this head other than ‘Let’s get this game over with,’” Cristiano said. “I told the girls before the game started that this was going to be a one-possession game.”
Up next for the 27-1 Wolves is almost certainly a spot in the NCS Open Division, which will be announced on Sunday, where it could face Carondelet again, along with other top teams such as Piedmont and Bishop O’Dowd.
How do the Wolves feel about that challenge?
“We’re ready to face hard competition,” Bowes said. “No more easy games, and we’ll be ready.”