CONCORD, Calif. – Carondelet had a three-headed beast on Saturday night in the CIF state Northern Regional Open Division semifinal against visiting Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills, and it was plenty strong enough to propel the Cougars (26-2) into the NorCal championship on Tuesday with a 63-42 victory.
Talana Lepolo had 17 points and seven assists, Nya Epps came alive in the second half after a dormant first to finish with 17 of her own (five three-pointers), Ashley Lewis dominated the post with 14 points, seven boards, and two blocks. Jamie Kent rounded out the key performances with nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds, that last figure being critical as the Cougars were still without Megan Dickert.
Oak Ridge (25-6) got a herculean effort from Teagan Brown. The senior guard had 26 points, 10 rebounds, and got at least one in every other category. Ella Ray was next on the list with eight points, seven boards, and three blocks. But the night was a long one for the Trojans, as Carondelet had a 7-2 spurt in the first quarter to break a 2-2 tie, led by double-digits at the half after Oak Ridge started the second quarter on an 8-0 run that brought them to within three, and won the fourth quarter 18 to eight.
“We weren’t supposed to get into a track meet with them and we did,” Oak Ridge coach Stephen White remarked. “Our staple has been our zone, and they were well-prepared. They hit shots, and their point guard is tough, she gets in the paint and does some damage.”
While Lepolo and Lewis were difference-makers from the start – with the pair in particular counteracting the Trojans’ second quarter run with a series of plays – Epps was ice cold from the field the entire first half. In the third quarter, however, she hit three three-pointers in a span of just over two minutes, expanding a seven-point lead to 12 all by her lonesome. And she cashed in twice more from deep in the fourth along with a two-pointer to help bring a clash with Archbishop Mitty for a trip to Sacramento to reality.
“I knew that I had to keep shooting if I wanted to get out of my slump,” Epps said. “My coach told me to keep shooting, and my teammates told me to, so that’s what helped. Losing Megan, we knew we had to kick it up a notch. Everyone has just kind of elevated their play.”
Stanford-bound Lepolo sprinkled her scoring evenly throughout and often seemed to drive the lane whenever she pleased, while Lewis headlined an offensive-glass effort that led to second-chance points again and again.
“Zones are always pretty much concentrated in the middle, but they have some long guards and they’re also able to cover the three, so I just think working to shift the defense one way and then flipping the ball the other way is how we got a lot of our open shots,” Lepolo commented. “(Epps and I) played summer ball together so we have that good chemistry. I wanted to put everything out on the floor, and I have great teammates surrounding me to do that.”
“We knew Ashley was going to play a big role...her plus-minus had to be plus-30 tonight because when she was out, we felt it,” Carondelet coach Kelly Sopak stated.
It was No. 1 Carondelet’s 10th straight win, their last loss coming January 29th against San Ramon Valley (a team they went on to beat twice in a row, including for the North Coast Section Open Division championship).
For No. 5 Oak Ridge, which eked out a 41-40 win vs. Folsom in the San Joaquin Section Division I Championship, then got another close win in the quarterfinals of this tournament against Pinewood, it was their first loss since January 21st, ending a streak that Carondelet has now achieved.
Carondelet will now host the NorCal Regional Final versus Archbishop Mitty, which topped Clovis West, 53-45. The Cougars handed the Monarchs their only loss on the year, a 61-50 defeat in the West Coast Jamboree.
“I felt that the final four teams in the North were just really good, disciplined teams, so it’s going to be tough,” Sopak added. “You’re not going to get anybody’s second-best effort at this stage.”
“If you would have asked me, when we played our first game of the year, if we’d be playing in the Open Division, there’d be no way,” White said. “These kids haven’t had much offseason with us as a program. They grew a lot, and I’m just so proud of how they came together and became a very, very good basketball team.”