Del Oro survives shooting slump

Second-seeded Golden Eagles headed to semifinals despite offensive woes
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — Katie Pulliam put her head in her hands when she heard the details of her team’s dismal shooting performance Thursday night. “It sucks,” the Del Oro senior said after the No. 2 Golden Eagles downed El Camino 43-32 to survive a second-round scare in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. “This is not us.” Del Oro never looked comfortable, advancing to its third straight section semifinal despite 26.4 percent shooting (19-for-72). “We haven’t been shooting well,” said Pulliam, who led all scorers with 12 points, 10 of which came in the second half. “We need to get back to fundamentals. I think it’s just the whole atmosphere throwing us off. We need to get our heads back into it and not freak out.” Del Oro (26-1) will face No. 3 Sacramento next Wednesday at Galt High in a rematch of a semifinal the Dragons won 51-46 last year. Sacramento, the 2007 Division III champion, held off athletic No. 6 Vanden 60-52 Thursday to advance. “Sac High’s going to be a whole different test for us and hopefully we’ll be up for it,” head coach Mike Takayama said. “The last couple of weeks we really haven’t played with that free flow. We’ve played hard, but right now we’re just running around the floor without any purpose. We didn’t even know they were playing zone defense in the first half.” Del Oro failed to set the tempo again. Courtney Nolen scored the team’s first four points on layups before going relatively silent the rest of the game. She committed her fourth personal foul with 3:36 left in the third quarter and sat the next nine minutes, returning in the fourth and immediately fouling out with six points and 11 rebounds. Nolen’s layups in the first quarter were Del Oro’s only two baskets on its first 17 shots from the floor. “We missed so many easy shots early,” Takayama said. “You knock down a few shots, you start feeling good about yourself and you start rolling. We could never do that these last two games, and a lot of them were good shots we just couldn’t get to fall.” Del Oro closed out the second quarter on a 10-1 run over the final 5:20 to lead 20-11 at halftime. El Camino, the Capital Valley Conference champion, appeared poised to pull off the upset and avenge a 56-24 loss to Del Oro at the Common Good Classic last month. The visitors opened the fourth quarter with an 11-2 run, closing the gap to 36-30 on Benisa Bulaya’s free throw with 3:28 left. “They’re long, athletic, physical and extremely well-coached,” El Camino head coach Bill Baxter said of Del Oro. “Eight weeks ago, we weren’t even close to their level. We’ve spent eight weeks trying to reach the level they play at, which is a final four level. Maybe they’re a final two, maybe they’re the section champs. When it came down the stretch, they still had that little edge.” Sam Hodge, who scored all seven of her points over the final six minutes, answered the spurt with a tough jumper from the top of the key. She sealed the win by stealing the ball near half court and burying a 3-pointer to put Del Oro up 43-30 with 1:19 remaining. “She’s one of the better shooting point guards in the area,” Takayama said. “They put a lot of pressure on her and those were big shots. Somehow we just couldn’t really settle the game, but we made some shots that counted down the stretch. Normally we’re taking time off the clock and putting things away. We have to play with a lot more discipline when we get to Galt. We have three practices to start getting back with it.” Alyssa Emeterio scored 10 while Amanda Davenport and Bulaya each finished with seven points for El Camino (21-8), which took its only lead, 5-4, midway through first quarter. Madeline Campbell had eight points while Belle Obert pulled down 10 rebounds for Del Oro, which posted its second-fewest point total this season. “We had a lot of energy, but maybe we kind of had too much,” Hodge said. “We got a little out of control and that led us to play their game instead of our game. We definitely have to play better and these next couple practices we really have to focus on some things, but I think we’re definitely going to be able to come out Wednesday and play our best. I know we can.”