Lincoln sharpens in spite of loss to Granite Bay

Zebras settle for runners-up
By: Jeremy McDonald for The News Messenger
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It was a battle of two well-coach programs in the tournament finals of the 26th annual Lincoln Invitational played on New Year’s Eve. Granite Bay faced host Lincoln for the No. 1 trophy.

The Fighting Zebras battled hard, but could not contain the Grizzlies’ Annie Wright and Daeja Black, as Granite Bay captured the tournament title with a 75-64 victory.

“I thought the girls finished out really strong, this was a strong team,” said Granite Bay head coach Angel Delgadillo. “Toughest team we’ve faced in this tournament.”

Coach Delgadillo said his team leaders helped hold things together to hold off Lincoln’s comeback rallies.

The Grizzlies used its collective muscle to open a 9-4 advantage in the early going. Lincoln struggled from long range and was unable to make up for it under the boards, until Kelly Belding hit two crucial 3-point shots en route to tying the game up at 11.

“Playing someone like Granite Bay is they run; they have great outside shooters,” said Lincoln assistant coach Regina Bell. “So what we were trying to do was to defend those outside shooters. (We tried) to press them so they had to work hard getting up and down the court.”

But, Black triggered a chain reaction toward the end of the first quarter to give the Grizzlies a 10-point lead going into the second period. Lincoln’s Cassie Pisik helped cut the deficit to four before a 15-5 run by Granite Bay put them up 42-28 at halftime.

Lincoln rallied coming out in the third quarter and went on a 12-4 run to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 47-42 with 2:45 left in the frame.

“I know we were in a huge deficit in that first half and we came back and battled back to (within five) points of them,” said the Zebras’ Kaitlynn McKinney. “So, we know that our will is strong enough to compete with really good teams. We know we’re good, we just have to capitalize on things.”

However, Lincoln was eventually forced to foul in the closing minutes to stop the clock, but Granite Bay made some crucial free throws to keep the Zebras at bay.

Lincoln 60, Gridley 37

Lincoln once again flexed their muscle in Round 2 against Gridley. 

But unlike game one, the Zebras turned to a high-powered offense to match their defense.

“Our team is just definitely getting better every day and tonight we put a lot of the phases together,” said Sprinkles. “Like (Monday) night, I feel offensively and defensively we were pretty solid.

“A lot of our offense is generated off of our press and they’re still learning how to rotate. They’re still learning how to fill spots and be in position and they’re getting better every single night.”

Lincoln built a 47-29 lead by the end of the third quarter and behind a 13-4 run to start the fourth; the Zebra offense was in full control of the contest.

The game started in scoring streaks by both clubs, but an 8-0 run by the home girls gave Lincoln an early 14-6 lead. The Zebras never trailed after that.

“Offensively we were patient,” said Sprinkles. “We were moving the ball around very well; we found the open player and we were being very unselfish, and when we do that we’re hard to beat.”

The Bulldogs were able to slow the Zebras in the early going, but Lincoln continued to burn the net from the perimeter and led 17-8 after the opening quarter.

McKinney then rained in two, big 3-pointers and the Zebras walked off the court at halftime with a 31-17 advantage.

 “I think we did pretty great – pretty amazing,” said Pisik. “We worked the ball well; we rotated the ball really well, which is something that we tend to kind of work hard to do. So, we rotated to the ball really well, executed our plays so I think we did pretty great.”

Lincoln 56, Galt 21

The Warriors were the first to taste the wrath of a Lincoln defense and fell victim to 21 steals, 18 in the first half.

“This is one of the best games we’ve played all year,” said Coach Sprinkles. “We put everything together offensively, defensively, whether we’re in half-court set or full court. Very proud of the girls with how they played tonight; it was one of the best games I’ve seen them play.”

Behind three steals each by Taylor Galli and Karla McCommas, Lincoln tallied 12 thefts in the first quarter. The Zebras added six more in the second period, while holding the Warriors to eight first-half points.

“We were playing as a team instead of playing as an individual thinking of ourselves; obviously thinking of others than us,” said McCommas. “We played fundamentally, as coach (Sprinkles) told us to do; ‘Play fundamental, play strong, play as a family and we’ll win this game,’ and that’s what we did.”

Lincoln led 36-2 before the Warriors scored their second basket at the 2:08 mark of the second quarter.

“We really wanted to make it tough for them to come across half court on us,” said Sprinkles. “Even if they get across half court we want them to take 10 seconds off the clock so it cuts down on what they can do in the half-court set.”

Sprinkles said it is difficult to play hard enough to cause havoc and chaos, while remaining smart enough not to foul. However, the Zebras defense was able to do that almost to perfection.

With the Zebras emptying the bench, Galt scored twice more before halftime with Lincoln leading 39-8 at intermission.

Lincoln’s bench also picked up some valuable experience.

Kait Law came in to pull down six rebounds; on defense, the Zebras kept the Warriors from cracking double figures until Desi Hunt hit a mid-range shot from just outside the paint with 2:30 left in the third quarter, as Lincoln’s sizable lead didn’t shrink much.

“I’m very proud of all of my girls tonight,” said Sprinkles. “From top to bottom everyone played extremely well, played hard, everyone got better tonight.”

The coach said his club is putting in the work necessary to understand the value of being in the right position. And the Zebras saw the benefit of that hard work against Galt Monday.