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Eagles shake off early struggles

Veteran Nolen leads No. 2 Del Oro to rout in playoff opener
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — Airing three of their first four shots and missing their first six, the Del Oro Golden Eagles hardly looked like a No. 2 seed early in their Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff opener Tuesday night. While they were never challenged in a 49-23 rout of No. 15 Center, the Eagles didn’t look like the same squad that prevailed in all but one game during the regular season. “I think it was more nerves, because not a lot of these girls have the playoff experience,” said Courtney Nolen, who finished with a game-high 18 points and five blocks. “The tempo just wasn’t quite what we’re used to. It’s something we weren’t doing. We can play a lot better than we did.” Clad in rainbow tube socks and baby blue and gold jerseys, the Cougars (14-13) kept Del Oro out of sync with a tenacious man-to-man defense in the opening quarter. Nolen’s short fadeaway at the 5:06 mark was the game’s first basket. Del Oro (25-1) led 14-4 after one quarter and took a 24-7 advantage into the second half despite failing to find much offensive rhythm. “We have to play much better,” head coach Mike Takayama said. “Each round makes you play that much better to advance. We didn’t go to the rim as strong as we could have early and we didn’t set the tempo the way we wanted to. We weren’t aggressive. We have to execute much better.” Madeline Campbell scored six of her 10 points on a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter. The Eagles took their largest lead of the game at the end of the quarter, 41-13 on a layup by Nolen, the only returning starter from a team that fell to Sacramento in the section semifinals last season. “Whenever you’re in a playoff it’s kind of a do-or-die situation and we don’t have a lot of playoff experience,” Takayama said. “Not many of these kids actually played in a game last year in the playoffs. I think that showed a little bit. I told them we just have to get better with each game, but we’re definitely going to have to play better defense if we’re going to continue to advance.” Belle Obert finished with a game-high 12 rebounds and eight points while Campbell added eight boards for the Eagles, who host No. 7 El Camino Thursday at 7 p.m. El Camino edged No. 10 Dixon 44-40 Tuesday to earn a rematch of last year’s second round game, a contest Del Oro won 61-41. “Although I still think that we did a lot of good things, I expect for us to do much better on Thursday,” Nolen said. “We definitely have to start out a lot stronger and set the game to our pace and not play to theirs.”