CLOVERDALE - The No. 2 seed Cloverdale Eagles could not overcome ice cold shooting early or the yeoman’s work of Urban High School’s Kira Waldman, losing at home to the No. 3-seeded Blues 57-51 in Division 5 girls’ North Coast Section semifinal basketball Wednesday night.
Cloverdale senior Angel Bernardi put in a fantastic effort at both ends of the court, finishing the night with a team-high 22 points, but the Eagles could not claw their way out of the hole they dug with their 3-for-23 shooting in the first half.
“That is the difference in the game,” Cloverdale coach Rick Berry said. “We started slow and we had an uphill battle the whole time.”
The Eagles will get a chance to address the slow start beginning at practice today as Cloverdale’s semifinal NCS appearance earned the school a spot in the NorCal tournament that begins next Wednesday.
Coming out of the locker room after halftime facing a 25-12 deficit, Cloverdale started making things happen, largely behind the grinding work of Bernardi, who scored nine of her 22 points in the third quarter.
It was also no coincidence that the Eagles’ resurgence came just as the Blues’ Waldman got into foul trouble. Sitting on the bench was the only place Waldman wasn’t hurting the Eagles.
Waldman did everything for Urban. She and senior C.J. Catina handled the ball against the Eagles’ full-court pressure, she banged bodies underneath the basket and she accounted for 30 of the Blues’ 57 points.
“We are not used to someone moving without the ball like she does,” Berry said. “She’s a player.”
Bernardi, who came into the contest averaging 18 points per game in the postseason, agreed.
“Help defense was all we could do,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for her.”
Help defense pushed the Eagles right back into the game, with a full-court press forcing costly turnovers for the Blues despite the deft ball handling of senior Catina.
But it was also the hot hand of Cloverdale sophomore Camryn Figueroa and her eight points, all in the fourth quarter, that brought the Eagles right back into the contest.
Figueroa set off what felt like a bomb in the student section when she nailed a 3-pointer with 1:56 to play to bring the Eagles within nine.
A tough defensive stand that prevented the Blues from inbounding the ball gave the Eagles a shot with the score 52-46 and 1:03 to play, but they couldn’t close the deficit.
The Eagles turned to fouling and the Blues converted from the line to put the game away.
In a moment that seemed to sum up Waldman’s effort, the Middlebury College-bound senior fouled out trying to steal a long pass with 17 seconds remaining.
“Our kids really battled all year,” Blues coach Maya Fok said. “The biggest difference between now and the beginning of the year is our handling pressure. We only win as a team.”
Fok credited Cloverdale’s hustle for keeping the cold-shooting Eagles in the game.
“They out-hustled us in the first half,” she said. “And they came alive offensively in the second. “
On Wednesday night, Cloverdale missed its season scoring average by one point and allowed nearly 20 points more than its defensive average of 38.