Vanden girls escape with win in NorCal opener

By From page B1 | March 13, 2014

FAIRFIELD — If the Vanden High girls basketball team just plays to its ability, there’s no limit to what it can do.

That’s what Vikings coach Allison Johnson said after her team escaped with a 62-46 victory over visiting San Marin of Novato in the opening round to the Northern California Regional playoffs Wednesday night at Jim Boyd Gym.

Unfortunately for the sixth-seeded Vikings (24-6), the problems they experienced in last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals against Florin of Sacramento resurfaced Wednesday, turning a 34-12 game with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first half into a fight for survival.

The Mustangs (18-12) battled back from the nearly threefold deficit to get within nine a couple of times during a 6-minute, 51-second scoring drought for Vanden that spanned halftime.

“We stopped executing offensively and defensively we completely lost focus,” Johnson said. “We played sloppy defensively and we played careless offensively. I’m not happy with the way we played. We’re actually fortunate they’re bad free throw shooters.”

Once San Marin’s Kaleah Williams nailed a turnaround jumper to make it 34-25 with 5:44 to play in the third, the Vikings started to wake up.

Freshman guard Julia Blackshell-Fair made a steal and a flying layup to restore the double-digit lead at 37-25, drawing the foul.

She missed the free throw, but struck again with 2:21 to go in the quarter, making it 39-29 on a putback.

Brooke Gibbins followed that with a huge 3-point basket from the left side to make it 42-29.

From there the Vikings had the game under control, but Williams continued to pester them as she poured in a game-high 23 points, exactly half of the Mustangs’ total.

Williams was also responsible for all of San Marin’s scoring in the third quarter with 12 in that 8-minute stanza.

Kayla Blair quietly led the Vikings with 17, including a pair of treys in the fourth quarter, the second of which opened up a 57-43 lead with 3:30 to play.

Sophomore Brittney Livingston added 13 for Vanden, opening the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and adding a baseline drive for a 53-41 advantage with 4:31 remaining.

“She could probably double that,” Johnson said of Livingston. “She’s extremely athletic, she has a gear that we see every once in a Blue Moon. She handcuffs herself. There’s nothing we tell her not to do. She’s going to be a monster.”

But it was the pair of the veteran Blair and freshman Blackshell-Fair that really carried the team, Johnson said.

“Those two are difficult to guard. A couple other of our players can be if they just apply themselves,” Johnson said.

Blackshell-Fair put up 12 points and pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.

It was she who got things going for the Vikings after a slow start.

With nearly a minute off the clock and the game still scoreless, Blackshell-Fair sparked a 22-point first quarter for Vanden with a short putback, followed by a defensive rebound and a coast-to-coast layup for a 4-0 lead with 6:17 left in the first quarter.

With the victory, the Vikings advance to the NorCal quarterfinals for the fourth straight year. It’s also where they’ve exited the postseason the last three.

They’ll visit No. 3 Encinal of Alameda, the North Coast Section champion, for a 6 p.m. Saturday matchup.

“No excuses. Everyone here is capable and needs to be willing to produce what they’re capable of producing,” Johnson said. “No one has to play above their ability. No one person does. I don’t need a special game from anybody, I need everybody to produce what they can produce.”

And if the team can do that?

“There’s nothing we can’t do. We are in our own way and I felt like we are in control of our own destiny, I really do,” Johnson said.

As for that nearly 7-minute drought, it just can’t happen again.

“That’s what happened against Florin,” Johnson said. “That cannot happen. We have layups that are literally rolling around the rim and at the other end they’re rolling in. I know there’s nothing you can control as far as what the other team does. I can’t have missed layups under the basket. That just cannot happen.”


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