SACRAMENTO — After a two-year absence, the Vanden High girls basketball team is set for a return to . . . Sleep Train Pavilion.
That name may not generate quite the excitement as the old name of Arco Arena, but the second-seeded Vikings are thrilled to be going back.
They earned the trip after a 66-50 comeback win over No. 6 Modesto Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals at Cosumnes River College, Tuesday.
Vanden will face No. 1 Christian Brothers of Sacramento in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. championship matchup after the Falcons defeated No. 4 Placer 82-43 in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
It was a tale of two halves for the Vikings (27-3) as they stumbled through the first 16 minutes, trailing 38-31 at halftime.
“They had control of the game – absolute control of the game,” Vanden coach Allison Johnson said. “They were beating us to loose balls. They were making their layups, we were missing our layups. They were hitting their free throws, we were missing our free throws. It was like the ultimate yin and yang.”
The Crusaders shot 48 percent (13 for 27) from the floor in the first half, and forced 10 Vanden turnovers in that stretch.
Vanden was just 33.3 percent (10 for 30) from the floor in the first half, trailing from the opening tip, which went for a layup by Modesto Christian’s Jasmine Hampton.
Things looked bleak midway through the second quarter as the Crusaders started to pull away, posting a 33-19 lead with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left in the half after a Lexi Tubbs 3-pointer.
The Vikings started to rally, getting a Toni Taylor layup, a hook shot under the hoop by Aleseana Whitney and a 3-pointer from Alex Bader to cut the deficit to five at 31-26 with 2:47 before the break.
Kiana Moore drained a trey of her own to get it to 34-31, but that was as close as Vanden got until the third quarter.
An explosive 21-4 run to open the second half led to a 26-5 third quarter that gave the Vikings total control.
“At halftime our coach just told us we were being too patient on offense we needed to pick it up offensively,” Vanden star Mariah Williams said.
Williams took that message to heart, pouring in 12 of her game-high 15 points in the third, repeatedly bulldozing her way through the stunned Crusaders’ defense.
“Defensively, we were being too patient, we needed to be more aggressive and just attack the basket,” Williams added.
In the first 2 minutes of the second half, the Vikings forced three turnovers and came away with four points to get within 40-36.
Adrianna Jones swished a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 42-39, and then Vanden got hot.
Williams followed with a pair of free throws and a drive to the hoop to give her team a 43-42 lead that it never relinquished.
Modesto Christian made just two field goals – both in the first 3:14 of the third – and scored just 12 points over the final 16 minutes, while committing 13 turnovers.
Johnson said that was just the kind of effort she’s been looking for throughout the Vikings’ playoff run.
“I don’t know what would happen if we did that for a whole game, but my girls aren’t ready to show me that yet,” she said with a laugh.
As the team prepares for the championship, Johnson said she’ll need the same level of intensity for four quarters in that game.
“Really, I still, no matter who we play against, I feel like it’s about us,” Johnson said. “It’s about us taking care of what we do. I think we are doing that. We’re not doing it for 32 minutes, but we are doing it in long enough stretches to get the job done.”
In addition to Williams, Kayla Blair added 13 points and eight rebounds, while Whitney had nine points and 11 boards.
Also coming up big was Bader, a junior, who finished with 12 points on four treys and five rebounds.
She and teammate Lanissa Belk were the two current Vikings who were in uniform for the team’s last championship appearance in 2011, a 63-50 loss to Sacramento.
“It feels good, I’ve been training a lot for it. It finally paid off,” Bader said of her big game, Tuesday.
As for the team’s performance, she said things are going the right direction.
“It happened last game too, we started off kind of slow and at halftime we realized the game started,” she said. “We played with more intensity the third quarter. . . . We’re pretty confident in our game too.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.