Coming back from an early 10-point deficit, the Davis High girls survived the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section basketball playoffs, sending visiting Napa home, 52-46, before a packed gym at The Cage on Tuesday night.
Brilliant off-the-bench play from Lady Blue Devil senior guard Kylie Drexel fueled a furious second-half rally that saw the sixth-seeded locals get their first lead of the contest halfway through the third period.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said second-year DHS coach Karen Foster, who made a critical change to zone defense at halftime, then turned up the pressure with a full-court press.
But that third period was a 10-10 standoff, the pesky Indians holding on to the five-point lead they had built in the opening half.
It wasn’t until Drexel burned 11th-seed Napa, grabbing an offensive rebound then scoring on a determined lay-up in heavy traffic, that Davis’ guests began to wheeze.
Moments after Drexel’s display, sophomore Emma Stenz’s putback gave the Devils their first lead — 39-38 with 5:48 left in the third quarter.
When Katie Grahn subsequently hit a jumper, DHS went up three and the partial crowd of more than 300 became a factor.
Despite the ruckus, Napa’s Madison Van Zandt canned a couple of free throws and scored inside (off a slick pass from Kelsi Maday) to give the Monticello Empire League runner-up its last advantage at 42-41 with just 3:31 to play.
Drexel forced one of Napa’s 25 turnovers, which, in turn, led to Stenz’s short jumper and a lead that Davis (23-4) would never relinquish.
Grahn’s free throw nudged the lead forward before she grabbed a steal and dished to Stenz for another inside bucket.
Ashleigh Vandenbrink’s block of a Napa shot eventually led to Caitlin Mazzoleni’s jumper with 32 seconds left — putting the Delta Valley Conference champions up by five.
All season, a good strategy for the Blue Devils has been to get the ball into the hands of the DVC Player of the Year. This night saw Vandenbrink sink four straight free throws to close out the visitors.
“It was an intense game,” Stenz explained after grabbing 10 rebounds, scoring 10 points, forcing five turnovers and blocking three shots. “(Napa) is so much more fundamental than the teams we’ve been playing. They knew how to drive the ball, they knew how to keep control, work the ball into their bigs. They are a very athletic team.”
Foster concurred, pointing to Drexel as the difference:
“Kylie was the game-changer. Kylie is reckless abandon … chases everything, she’s nonstop. I can’t say enough positive things about Kylie — an experienced senior who knows how to get it done.”
Coming off the bench early, the three-sport standout finished with eight points and three steals — each of which resulted in Blue Devil baskets.
The 5-foot-4 Drexel did significant damage in the paint, collecting six rebounds (two of which were offensive). By comparison, the 6-foot-1 Van Zandt, a solid sophomore post player, had but four caroms.
The switch to zone with a healthy helping of in-your-face defense changed the game after halftime.
“We went to a 2-3 zone and they didn’t get any shots,” Foster explained. “We’re usually a man defense, but we made the adjustment and it paid off.”
Davis outboarded the taller Indians, 42-35. However, the Devils were an ice-cold 8-for-33 from the floor in the first two periods. On the night, DHS finished 18-for-65 and hit 15-of-21 free throws.
Vandenbrink led all scorers with 15, while Van Zandt’s 14 was a Napa high.
Freshman forward Rachael Allison (six points, three steals, three assists and a block) drew Foster’s praise for a strong game.
Mazzoleni was solid in her efforts to penetrate but usually drew a crowd inside. She finished with four points and a key assist.
Foster said there was a lot of credit to spread around and paused to talk about her center Stenz’s first postseason appearance:
“Emma gets the boards when we need them. She’s 6-foot and we expect her to do that. She battled down there. They got physical with her and she sustained her physicality. That was nice.”
Next up for DHS is a second-round contest at Kennedy (Sacramento) on Thursday. The third-seed Cougars (22-5) beat Enochs, 51-33, on Tuesday.
Kennedy was the Metro League second-place team behind No. 1 Sacramento. The Cougars have won five section titles over the years.
But as Stenz says, the Lady Blue Devils have some mojo of their own:
“We rely on each other as a team. We win games as a team. Obviously we have Ashleigh, but all of us work together well.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.