DIXON — It was like Old Home Week in the first round of the Dixon Ram Jam.
In the Davis High girls’ 64-61 win over Vacaville on Wednesday, a good number of the players on both rosters have played Wildcats club basketball together.
And there, sitting on the Bulldog bench, was former Lady Blue Devils head coach Jeff Christian (in his second year as a Vacaville assistant) and Gary Smith — the Davis resident and architect of the DHS boys’ high-scoring offense.
These were two squads which — even if there weren’t personal connections — have gotten to know each other very well over the years.
With the nonleague triumph, the Devils are now 14-7 against the ‘Dogs in the past 10 seasons. The two neighbors unofficially opened this season with Davis taking a 51-43 decision at The Cage.
On Wednesday — with former University of Redlands mastermind Smith stirring the pot — the Blue Devils saw a completely different Vacaville from that CIF Foundation game last month.
The Bulldogs (6-5) have gone up-tempo.
Forcing the pace, driving the line and kicking out for 3-pointers when appropriate, Vacaville had DHS (9-3) on the ropes early. In building a 22-16 first-period advantage, standout junior Julie DePonte canned seven points and grabbed three rebounds in the first six minutes of play.
But less than a minute into the second quarter, disaster struck VHS.
DePonte, challenging Devil center Emma Stenz under the basket, went down in a heap with a right knee injury.
DePonte — headed for the University of Washington on a softball scholarship — was attended to for several minutes on the court, then helped to the locker room. From there, she was transported to the hospital, not to return.
Still, Vacaville battled and survived a horrible second quarter by both teams to lead 27-25 at intermission.
In the third period, with the Bulldogs still trying to run, Davis dug in and played what might have been its best defensive quarter of the year.
“Our defense won this game,” Blue Devil coach Karen Foster told The Enterprise. “We took them out of their offense. We didn’t let them run what they did earlier (in the game).”
Immediately out of the break, a pair of DHS freshmen tied things at 27-27. It was Rachael Allison, thanks to a nifty pass from Anna Belenis, who knotted the game.
Stenz hit a layup after Vacaville’s Skylar Takeda’s trey gave her team another brief lead. When Caitlin Mazzoleni sank two free throws, the Devils were ahead, 35-34.
A 6-0 Davis run followed …
Katie Grahn swiped a Bulldog inbound pass and scored. Then, Kylie Drexel pilfered back-to-back Vacaville possessions, each time flashing past startled defenders to make lay-ups. Danielle Gantar (five rebounds) and Becca Hassid (two assists) were adding to the rally.
Down by seven, VHS coach Annaliese Vasquez called time and huddled with Christian, Smith and her girls.
The advice worked …
Junior Capriana Christian (who played under her dad at Davis two seasons ago), began to go hard to the basket. She sank 3-of-4 charity tosses and Jessica Cummins hit a 3-pointer as Vacaville set sail on a 10-2 run and took 47-46 and 51-48 leads in the waning moments of the final stanza.
Foster said afterward, while concerned about the Blue Devils’ inside shooting, she was pleased with how her troops were playing defense.
“If we had hit some of those shots in the second half, we’d (have been) up by 40,” the second-year varsity mentor said.
Maybe not 40 — but the lead would have been substantial. DHS went 3-for-20 in the paint during a 10-minute stretch of the second half.
But with Davis trailing by three, it was senior stalwart Ashleigh Vandenbrink to the rescue.
After Tori Powell’s steal led to her own bucket, Vandenbrink recovered her own miss and sent it back down to put Davis ahead.
Christian’s free throws tied the game again, this time at 56, before Vandenbrink’s five late points gave the Blue Devils a 64-60 advantage as time wound down.
DHS shot 37 percent (28-of-74) from the field, but it was that stretch in the paint that had Foster scratching her head.
“We just couldn’t finish. We didn’t crash,” Foster added. “We have to do better when given those (point-blank) chances.”
In Round 2, the Devils meet Roseville (2-10) Thursday (5 p.m.) at Dixon High.
Vandenbrink led all scorers with 19 and Christian paced Vacaville with 18.