GALT — The good news for Turlock Christian girls basketball coach Edwin Santiago is that hell welcome back all but one player from a team that went 20-10 and reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 6 final, where it lost 54-47 Thursday night at Galt High School.
The bad news?
Valley Christian of Roseville, the team that beat TC, also will lose just one starter to graduation.
Yes, its very likely these teams could meet up again in 12 months with another blue section championship banner on the line.
We know what were up against, said Santiago, who has reached the playoffs in each of his seven seasons as head coach but fell to 0-4 in section championship games. Well have to find a way to make up seven points.
Santiago, knowing what he was up against the teams played the day after Christmas, with VC winning 59-47, at the Monte Vista Christian Tournament in Watsonville realized hed have to play all 12 players on his roster to have a chance at slowing down the Lady Lions run-and-gun offense.
Three minutes into game, Santiago had already played 10 players, choosing to sub five at a time a hockey-like shift change for brief stretches.
The strategy worked for the most part, but the Eagles never could dig themselves out of an early double-digit deficit.
It seemed like we were a little rattled early, said Santiago. We missed some easy baskets and made some silly mistakes. It was tough playing catch-up, but thats what we had to do.
After falling behind 8-0 in the blink of an eye, Santiago pulled his starters and sent in Team Trinity, which consisted of Kaylene Baskin, Abi Bawcum, Hannah Sawyer, Madison Yagi and Mikayla Yagi.
The subs made an immediate impact. Not only did the rest seem to settle the TC starters, but Team Trinity turned a 10-0 deficit into a more manageable four-point margin when it turned things back over to the regulars.
They came in and played with just the most enthusiasm, said Santiago, who will lose only Monique McMeechan to graduation. They work hard against our starters in practice and they make us better.
During the teams December matchup in Watsonville, the Lady Lions (22-5) put up 84 shots to TCs 50 a frenetic pace that tests teams mental and physical toughness.
And if there were ever any questions about Turlock Christians toughness, those were answered in the second half when freshman Lauryn McIntire ran full speed into the gymnasium wall about 8 feet behind the baseline and appeared to break her right wrist.
McIntire calmly walked off the court, took a seat on the bench where she held a bag of ice on the fracture for the remainder of the game, rooting on her teammates.
Shes the lone freshman on this team, said Santiago. And shes the type of player wholl run through a brick wall for you. She almost did tonight.
The Eagles eventually cut Valley Christians lead to five with 3 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the contest, and were still within five with 1:16 to play, but would get no closer.
Aimee Jones was the lone Turlock Christian player to score in double figures, finishing with 17 points. Valley Christians Lily Hagerty led all scorers with 23 points.
We never could turn that corner, said Santiago. But Im proud of my girls. They did the best they could and thats all I could ever ask. They fought to the very end.