WATSONVILLE—The St. Francis High girls’ basketball team took a hard hit last week after six players were forced to sit out due to Covid-19 protocols.
But instead of postponing its game against Gilroy High until later in the season, the Sharks brought enough players to play the teams’ Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division opener on Jan. 13.
It felt like a good ol’ fashion pick-up game that featured the Sharks’ starting five against the best possible lineup for the Mustangs, who had the advantage with 12 players ready to go.
St. Francis senior Mariah Montalvo and her teammates did their best to catch their breaths after each quarter or during any break in the action. They had just enough left in the tank en route to a 33-24 win against the Mustangs.
“I was just looking at the time thinking, ‘Alright, three more minutes. Let’s go hard, you got it,’” Montalvo said. “Then whenever I can, in between playing, just take a couple of deep breaths and pump up my teammates.”
Montalvo said she knew playing with no subs was going to be a tough situation. But she’s glad they decided to play shorthanded given the situation with all the continuous postponements.
“We were kind of nervous, like, we’re not going to have any breaks,” she said. “We just had to give it our all and do as best as we can.”
St. Francis coach Adam Hazel said the program is used to having a small roster but he enjoys it. As do the players.
“I didn’t have any complaints about playing time,” he said. “You gotta love that.”
The Sharks had a 10-6 lead at the end of the first stanza thanks to Emily Raich’s five points. The sophomore guard poured in a game-high 13 points.
Junior center Samantha Orradre got into foul trouble after picking up two in the first quarter. Yet, she continued to play aggressively by snatching rebounds and becoming a defensive presence under the rim.
Hazel said he emphasized to the team about having smart possessions that ended with a good shot. His goal was to also shorten the game by running down the shot clock to as low as possible.
“If we shoot a 3-pointer within five seconds, that’s a whole lot of running up and down the court,” he said. “Where if we use 20 to 25 seconds of the shot clock.”
Fatigue did begin to set in late in the fourth, causing the Sharks to turn the ball over and allowing the Mustangs to make a small push. But a clutch jump shot by Raich and a pair of made free throws from senior guard Klarisse Dayrit sealed the deal.
Dayrit, who wrapped a bag of ice around her right calf after the game, finished with five points and teammate junior Isabella Fury added two points for the Sharks.
The Sharks (4-3, 1-0) expect to have seniors Natalya Soto and Aaliyah Gomez, juniors Taylor Fischer and Isabella Sumano and sophomores Aaliysah Gomez and Nevaeh Litel make their returns soon.
But, they’ll have to wait longer after their games against Pacific Grove (8-3, 1-1) and Monterey (6-8, 1-2) high schools were postponed due to Covid-19 protocols.
“Like anything, we just control what you can control,” Hazel said. “Our kids do a good job of just keeping their heads up and we’ll get other girls back, hopefully, sooner than later. And when it’s their turn to come in they’ll keep competing like everybody else.”
Hazel said this year’s group is unselfish with the ball and he enjoys coaching them because they get along so well.
“They’re a lot of fun and they just come out to compete like tonight, and good things happen,” he said.
Montalvo said that getting the victory with a limited roster showed how much heart and love they have for the game.
“We love competing and we just give it our all, no matter what. Even if we’re shorthanded,” she said. “The odds are maybe not in our favor, we’re going to be gassed the whole game, but we can still give it our all to try to pull off the win.”
Montalvo added that she’s also happy to be back on the court after she opted not to play during the abbreviated 2021 spring season. Instead, she focused her limited time as the softball team’s standout catcher.
The Sharks finished with a 7-4 overall record and were runner-up in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League “B” Division with a 7-2 record.
“With Covid last year, I didn’t get to play basketball which was a bummer to me because I love the game, I love playing,” Montalvo said. “This is my last season playing before I go to college and it would mean a lot to go as far as I could go.”
This year she doesn’t have to decide between two sports happening at the same time. Montalvo said her mindset going into the season was to take on more of a leadership role, especially playing at the point guard position.
She mentioned they’ve come a long way since the start of the season, especially because it took time for players to get adjusted to each other’s game style.
“But we’re getting there and we’re working more as a team now,” Montalvo said. “I think we’re just developing and we’re still going to get better as we finish the season off.”
Next up, the Sharks play at Carmel (6-2, 2-0) on Jan. 24 at 7pm.