BELMONT — St. Francis junior guard Janiya Sevilla said she likes to watch Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry play the game of basketball and try to emulate his work.
“I really look up to him,” Sevilla said. “Especially as a shooter.”
Stepback 3-pointers, hesitation dribbles, free-throw line success, Sevilla was cooking like the NBA’s reigning unanimous MVP on Friday night with the Central Coast Section Division V championship on the line.
But top-seeded Woodside Priory, with its advantage in size, depth and strength, proved to be too much for the No. 2-seeded Sharks in a 69-48 loss.
Sevilla dropped a game-high 23 points, heating up for a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter to bring the Sharks (15-10) within striking distance but the Panthers (18-9) fired back with a 17-0 run, which bled into the fourth quarter and sealed their dominant march to their first-ever section title.
Priory, a third-place finisher in the powerhouse West Bay Athletic League’s Foothill division behind CCS Open Division call-ups Pinewood and Eastside College Prep, had allowed only 21 points over its first two playoff wins. And the Panthers passed the eye test when matched up side-to-side with the Sharks, whose tallest starter was 5-foot-7 senior Megan Kelly.
All but one of the Panthers measured in over 5-foot-7 and 6-foot-4 sophomore center Ila Lane thoroughly dominated the game with her length despite constant double teams. She finished with 16 points and was just the tip of the Priory spear, as junior wing Tatiana Reese also scored 16 and freshman guard Lala Niu added 10. Five-foot-10 sophomore wing Gabby Ruiz chimed in with 10 points off the bench.
“We knew it was going to be a big challenge,” said St. Francis first-year head coach Meghan Garcia. “Height has always been an issue with our team but I always have faith in them. They play small and they play fast but when you play bigger teams like this it becomes a struggle. That being said, I’m proud of them despite the outcome of the game. I’m proud of how far we’ve come.”
Friday was a return to the site of history for the Sharks, who had three-peated as D-V champions at Notre Dame de Namur University before being knocked out in the semifinals by Priory last season. Not many expected the fourth-place finishers of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League to find their way back to Belmont after graduating seven seniors last season.
Yet St. Francis, led by junior guard Chloe Deleisseguess, sophomore guard Janessa Yniguez and Sevilla, powered its way through the CCS bracket.
“Our losses made us stronger. They made us learn from our mistakes,” Sevilla said. “We came together at the end of the year.”
And they’ll have at least another week together, as both Priory and St. Francis will advance to the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal playoffs.
The Sharks earned the No. 12 seed in the D-V bracket and will travel to San Francisco to play No. 5 International on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“We’ll play where we have to and who we have to,” Garcia said. “We’re just glad to still be playing.”
Sevilla, Deleisseguess and Yniguez combined to score 23 of the Sharks’ 27 first-half points.
As Priory rained down jumpers and layups, St. Francis did its damage at the charity stripe, making nine of its 11 free throws to keep the game close through the first two quarters. But the Panthers started rolling early in the second half after switching into the full-court press, forcing two quick turnovers and converting them into a pair of buckets.
The Sharks fell behind by 18 before Sevilla, who scored all 11 of the Sharks’ points in the third, willed them back to within 12 with a pair of incredible 3-pointers but the Panthers’ onslaught continued through her flurry.