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Lady Eagles fight for state title berth

Del Oro has rematch with St. Mary's in Norcal championship
By: Mike Ray, Gold Country News Service
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It wasn’t easy, but the Del Oro High School Lady Eagles have clawed their way into this Saturday’s California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Division II girls basketball championship game. Thanks to a 63-59 overtime win in a high-profile semi-final over Presentation High last Saturday night on the road in San Jose, the Lady Eagles have gained the Northern California Regional title game for the first time since 1999. And awaiting the Black and Gold in Saturday’s title bout will be a familiar opponent — the nationally ranked St. Mary’s Rams from Stockton. “We’re excited to still be playing and the girls are excited to have another shot at St. Mary’s,” said Del Oro coach Mike Takayama. “This is really what you play for.” The Del Oro/St. Mary’s match-up will tip off at 2 p.m. at Sacramento’s Power Balance Pavilion. The Division III girls and boys games will precede the Del Oro/St. Mary’s contest. The Division II boys game (Woodcreek vs. Mitty) and the Division I girls and boys title games will follow. Tickets for Saturday’s action range from $16 for adult general admission to $20, $40 and $45 for lower level courtside and King’s Row seating. Student tickets are $10. At stake in Saturday’s game will be a berth next Friday, March 25, in the CIF State Div. II championship game against the winner of Saturday’s CIF Southern California Regional, which pits Rialto (30-3) vs. Buena of Ventura (27-7). For Del Oro, the Lady Eagles will be looking to turn the tables on the 27-2 Rams who handed Del Oro a 70-65 setback two weeks ago in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section finals, which were also contested at Power Balance. St. Mary’s will enter Saturday’s game riding a 25-game winning streak, but Takayama doesn’t feel his squad will be intimidated. “It’s going to come down to who plays the best,” said the Del Oro coach. “We know what we can do and we know what to expect.” In last Saturday’s game with Presentation, the No. 2 seed in the 12-team Div. II bracket, the Lady Eagles used some prolific three-point shooting throughout the contest to help subdue the Panthers who had their season end with a record of 24-7. Perhaps the night’s two biggest treys came when Belle Obert and Brianna Ruiz both stuck three-pointers to start the overtime session after the two teams had battled to a 56-56 standoff after four quarters of regulation play. “The two threes to get us going in overtime were huge,” said Takayama. “We knew it was going to be close and our players did what they needed to do.” For the most part, Del Oro had its hands full with Presentation’s 1-2 punch of senior guard Nici Gilday and freshman post Josetta Fatuesi. Gilday, who is headed next season to Santa Clara on scholarship, poured in 23 points and made two free throws that tied the score at 56-56 in the final 10 seconds. That sent the game into overtime, while Fatuesi was just as impressive with her 22 point, 15 rebound two block evening. But Del Oro had their standouts too. Ruiz tallied 21 points, while Obert had 20. The duo combined for seven treys in the game. Madeline Campbell, meanwhile, was another force as she scored 13 of her 18 markers in the pivotal fourth stanza. Both teams looked a little apprehensive in the opening quarter of the game as neither squad shot the ball well and were hampered by turnovers as Presentation took a slim, 14-13 lead. But after Obert nailed back-to-back treys to start the second quarter, the Lady Eagles went on a 10-0 run that ended up being a 30-25 margin at halftime when Obert scored a lay-in as the halftime buzzer sounded. The third quarter was definitely Presentation’s as the Panthers regained the momentum behind Gilday and Fatuesi to outgun the Lady Eagles, 17-6, and forge out to a 42-36 margin heading into the fourth quarter. The back-and-forth game continued into the fourth stanza, with the two teams trading hoops the entire quarter before the Lady Eagles regained the lead when Campbell drained a big three. ---------------------------------- CIF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA GIRLS DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIOP When: 2 p.m. Saturday, March 19 Where: Power Balance Pavilion, Sacramento Who: Del Oro (27-4) vs. St. Mary’s (27-2) Tickets: $10 students, adults $16 to $45 Power Balance Pavilion parking: $12