MODESTO — It was obvious right away that the height of Gregori High was intimidating to Benicia.
How obvious? At the opening tap, the visiting Panthers made no attempt to get the ball and merely dropped back on defense.
But the same height advantage played out through the entire 32 minutes, as the Jaguars held Benicia to 13 second-half points and pulled away to a 54-41 victory for the school's first girls basketball playoff victory.
Maryssa McDuffy took care of the outside game with 19 points and the junior twin towers of 6-foot-2 Amber Hilvers (14 points) and 6-3 Emilee Van Dyke (12 points) controlled the inside.
It means another home game is in store for Gregori (25-1) on Thursday against the winner of the El Camino-Florin game.
"We weren't happy with our first half on defense because we gave up 28, and normally we only give up 40 points a game," said coach Jeff Salyer. "We tightened that up in the second half. But they did have trouble with the post players."
Gregori does present a unique riddle to opposing teams. With the size in the post, it would be natural to think the Jaguars are a methodical, walk-it-up, half-court-style team.
But that's far from the case. The Jaguars fuel their offense with a full-court press, but their size allows them to change the pace as the game dictates.
"We do have a transition game with speed, then we have an extra advantage with the two bigs," said McDuffy, who will attend Cal State Stanislaus in the fall on a soccer scholarship.
"It means that the fast break is not our only element. We can dump and bang with our bigs, and I think that's why we've been so successful this season."
McDuffy's point was on display early in this game. With Gregori's press easily broken by Benicia also a pressing team the Jaguars' offense had to come inside, and that's where Van Dyke scored 10 first-quarter points to pace Gregori to a 21-15 lead after the first quarter.
"I had these kids last year and we tried to slow down and we averaged 28 points a game," Salyer said. "We're averaging 60 this year by changing the tempo, and we had to press to do that."
Except for the occasional dribble-drive, the Panthers lived on the outside, where senior guards Adrianna Williams (17 points) and Nikki Andaya (16) did their damage. They combined to score their team's final 22 points, and it wasn't going to be nearly enough.
McDuffy hit a 3-pointer and Hilvers got inside for four points during a 7-1 run that opened the second half and gave Gregori its first double-digit lead at 40-30.
With only two Benicia players looking to score, the Jaguars' defensive responsibilities were simplified, and the Panthers were unable to make any kind of scoring run down the stretch.
SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
Kennedy 51, Enochs 33
Armijo 52, Merced 31
Gregori 54, Benicia 41
Grant 46, Buhach Col. 18
Patterson 68, Oakmont 61
Modesto Christian 66, Vista del Lago 27
Manteca 50, Inderkum 33
Rio Amer. 56, Ceres 13
Bret Harte at Ripon, postponed to tonight
Argonaut 60, Riverbank 43
Dixon 60, Sonora 43
Bear River 63, Hilmar 31
Colfax 47, Los Banos 34
Central Catholic 70, Forest Lake Chr. 27
Foresthill 45, Big Valley Christian 41
Woodland Christian 45, Le Grand 41
Florin at Gregori
Modesto Christian at Rio Americano
Patterson at Placer
Manteca at Vanden
Bret Harte-Ripon winner at Argonaut
Woodland Christian at Ripon Christian
Foresthill at Turlock Christian
Central Catholic at Brookside Chr.
Tonight's Games (7 p.m.)
Oak Ridge at Golden Valley
Turlock at Franklin (EG)
Gregori at Burbank
Buhach Colony at Cosumnes Oaks
Manteca at Modesto Christian
Ceres at Sierra
Vanden at Patterson
East Union at Casa Roble
Waterford at Riverbank
Delhi at Summerville
Hughson at Colfax
Escalon at West Campus
Mariposa at Liberty Ranch
Ripon at Encina
Lodi Academy at Turlock Christian