By Jeremy Balan
Mercy High School held Scotts Valley to just two points in a critical third quarter, en route to a 56-43 victory in the semifinal round of the CIF-Central Coast Section Division IV playoffs at Santa Cruz High School on Tuesday.
Second-seeded Mercy (21-7) forced nine Scotts Valley (21-8) turnovers in the third quarter, with a smothering, full-court-press defense, and didn’t allow the Falcons to make a field goal in the frame (0-for-12 from the field).
“It’s hard to beat a team when you score two points in a quarter,” said Scotts Valley Head Coach Jim Hart. “Until you face that kind of pressure, it’s always going to surprise you. Plus, we ran cold in the third quarter. We got the looks we wanted, they just didn’t go through.”
After heading into the half tied 26-26, the Skippers increased the pressure and converted the Falcons’ turnovers into points, taking a 41-28 lead into the third-quarter break.
“We like to trap as much as we can and force a lot of turnovers,” said senior guard Kimmi Fung, who led the Mercy charge with 11 second-half points.
Fung carried the Skippers late, but sophomore guard Mariah Masoli was the consistent offensive presence for Mercy, with a game-high 18 points.
“I challenged them at halftime and they came out firing,” said Mercy Head Coach Mike Gutierrez.
While Mercy’s press was consistently shutting down the Falcons’ offense, Scotts Valley struggled with foul trouble, with three starters fouling out in the second half, including starting point guard Kelsey Laporte, who fouled out late in the third quarter.
Hart was not entirely pleased with some of referees’ decisions.
“There were some interesting calls made out on the court,” Hart said. “They pressed the entire game and fouled no one out. We played half-court [defense] and fouled out three [players].”
With Laporte out of the game, the Falcons struggled to get the ball through the Mercy press and never made any considerable dent in the lead.
“It was huge when our point guard fouled out in the third,” Hart said. “That was the nail in the coffin.”
Scotts Valley junior forward Liz Munger led the Falcons with a team-high 13 points, before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter.
With the win, the Skippers advance to the CCS championship game against defending champion and top seed Santa Cruz (23-5) on Saturday at Santa Clara University.
The same two teams met in the final last season, with Santa Cruz coming out on top, 42-32.
Fung said this has been the matchup they have looked forward to all season.
“We’ve been preparing for this game since the beginning of the season,” Fung said. “We know [Santa Cruz] well.”
The Skippers haven’t won a CCS championship in 29 years, but Gutierrez is encouraged with their recent play.
“Both teams are very good,” Gutierrez said. “If we play like we did today, I like our chances.”