Following a stellar regular season and solid playoff run, the Cate girls basketball team finally met their match Wednesday night.
The Rams (13-4) were bounced from the CIF-SS Div. 4A tournament, suffering a 50-29 loss against the Marshall Eagles out of Pasadena.
Things started out well for Cate, which took a 10-8 at the end of the first quarter. The Rams were able to limit Marshall from getting the ball into the paint, and offensively Meena Baher dropped eight points to help the hosts take the early advantage.
The Eagles (24-3) were able to wreak havoc defensively in the second quarter. They were able to force a number of steals and their matchup zone defense kept the Rams out of sorts. Marshall opened the quarter with a 14-0 run to take control. Hannah Gray converted a layup and then scored on off an offensive rebound midway through the second. Back to back baskets for Samia Dinniene gave the Eagles a 24-11 lead before Baher caught fire again. The sophomore drilled consecutive 3-pointers for Cate to cut the deficit to 24-17, though Natalie Tomoyasu’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the half helped the Eagles take a 27-17 after two quarters.
“That halftime shot, that was huge,” Cate coach Laura Moore said after the game. “I got so frustrated with the girls because they were almost just watching the game clock going down and it was like they didn’t think it would happen. It was just one more effort play to get that loose ball or rebound.”
Cate, which considers itself a second-half team, tried to get back into the game to open the third quarter, but it was again the Eagles’ defense that was the difference. Lily Zanze recorded a steal and took it the other way for a layup to help Cate cut the deficit to eight points to open the period.
“We knew if we were going to really make our move to get back in it that was the time,” said Cate’s Maya Blattberg.
Marshall responded with a 12-2 run over the next several minutes to extend its lead.
Ashley Gonzalez finished off a pair of layups on consecutive possessions early in the quarter before Breanna McDonald’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 39-21. A jumper by Cate’s Maya Fenelon made it 39-23 heading into the final quarter.
Baher opened the fourth with her fifth 3-pointer of the night, though the Eagles were able to maintain control. Kahlani Banks’ jumper in the lane gave Marshall a 45-28 lead with 3:52 left and a put back by Dinniene with 31 seconds left rounded out the scoring.
Despite the large deficit, Cate’s student section and contingent of fans gave the girls a standing ovation as the clock wound down. The fans then took to the court and created a human tunnel for the girls to run through, some of them for the final time of their high school careers.
Several Cate players were visibly emotional after the game as their season came to an end.
“It was hard,” Moore said. “It doesn’t help that I got emotional, but I’m just so proud of all their hard work.”
The team took a week off for Thanksgiving and nearly three weeks off during Christmas time, though Moore said she felt the team had done some serious building in the past few weeks.
“This is an incredible team and these kids are special,” she said. “Especially the seniors, so I think that’s what these kids were so emotional about.”
One of the Cate seniors, Blattberg, told the News-Press the team had some jitters at the start of Wednesday’s game, but much of that was due to the pressure applied by the Eagles.
“They were definitely one of the best defensive teams that we’ve played,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve faced someone with such a strong left-hand drive as (Banks) yet this season, so that definitely though us for a little bit of a loop and we paid for that in the long run.
“I think they were just quick and fast and really aggressive. We hadn’t necessarily played against as much of that this season as we have in the past.”
Blattberg was playing through a hip injury, but you couldn’t tell by watching. She was extremely active defensively, coming away with several blocks and a number of steals, while running the court the whole time she was on the floor. Blattberg said she’s been dealing with the pain for the past few weeks, though admitted there was no chance she would have missed Wednesday’s game.
The Rams tried to force the Eagles to beat them on the perimeter, and for the most part was successful in limiting the road team from the outside. Marshall’s size and deep bench loomed large in the second half, helping the visitors win the final two quarters by a combined 23-12.
“One of the things I was most surprised about was how deep they were,” Moore said. “I was proud of the heart that (we) showed. Up until the last moment they were fighting, even though we really struggled to score. We prepared them that (Marshall’s) defense was flustering and that they start in what looks like a zone and then switch off the first pass to a man, which is really hard to prepare for.”
The Rams, ranked No. 4 in Div. 4A defeated Costa Mesa 62-26 in the first round of the playoffs before a thrilling 41-38 win over Capistrano Valley last weekend to reach the semifinals. Cate enjoyed a size advantage in its first two playoff games, but ran into an experienced club with six seniors who were playing well at the right time.
“In the last two games in CIF, we definitely were more skilled in the post,” Moore said. “Tonight, we met our match.”
Moore, who will be celebrating her birthday today, joked that she tried to will her team to victory given the special occasion, and said she plans on taking the team out today for a celebration.
“It’s the best way I can celebrate the really good season,” she said.
Baher had a team-high 17 points, while Marshall’s Banks also poured in 17 and Dinniene added 11.