For three long, hard-fought, physical quarters, they seemed a little lost, a little overwhelmed by the moment, perhaps.
And then came the fourth. Specifically, the last five minutes of the game, when the Placer Hillgals, down 40-26 entering the quarter, unleashed a ferocious full-court press and a hot-shooting Stephanie Knoble and clawed their way back into their Sac-Joaquin Section Div. III semifinal against Patterson High at Galt High School on Tuesday.
It almost … almost … proved to be enough, as the Hillgals succombed to the Tigers, 51-50.
“Heartbroken” Placer coach Tony Camillucci said. “Especially for those those girls. What a great comeback.”
In the first three quarters, offense was hard to find for the Hillgals. Patterson fielded a frontcourt that went 5-10, 6-0, 6-0, with strength and length all over the court. The Hillgals had passes intercepted, short-range shots disrupted, and they couldn’t find a rhythm. They scored 26 points in three quarters.
They scored 24 in the fourth.
It began with Knoble, who took the ball in Placer’s first possession, made a move and buried a mid-range jumper.
Finally, the Hillgals had someone who had found the range. And they kept going to her. Possession after possession, Knoble got the ball, either by design or off a rebound.
She scored the first 10 points of the period, her last basket cutting Patterson’s lead to 45-36.
‘She had a few miscues early,” Camillucci said. “I ride her pretty hard, but she responds, and she had a grerat fourth quarter. I’m really happy for her.”
Patterson got another basket, but Raven Lewis, the hero of the quarterfinal comeback victory over Vista Del Lago, hit another huge three-pointer to make it 47-39, and suddenly the Hillgals had momentum and belief that they could still win this game.
But tbey had to start getting stops. Patterson had, for most of the game, punished the Hillgals under the basket.
“That’s a good team,” Camillucci said. “They’re so physically strong underneath. We’re pretty physical ourselves, but they position well.”
So Camillucci decided to turn it into a track meet. He put on a full-court press.
It worked. Time after time, the Tigers turned the ball over. When they did manage to get a shot off, those shots that had been falling throughout the second and third quarters bounced off the rim. And Placer finally controlled the rebounds.
Julia Camillucci received a pass under the basket on an inbounds play and made the layup to cut it to 47-41.
Patterson made a free throw, but on its ensuing possession, Lewis intercepted a pass and threw it ahead to Laura Condosta for a fast-break layup to make it 48-43.
After misses on both ends, Julia Camillucci got the ball at the top of the key, drove into the lane and made an eight-foot floater to cut the deficit to three, 48-45.
Each team turned the ball over as time wound down. The Hillgals went back to their spark, Knoble, who delivered again with a turnaround jumper over two defenders to make it 48-47 and force Patterson to call a timeout with 58.2 seconds remaining.
The Hillgals got another stop but turned the ball over. They were forced to foul, and Patterson made both free throws. It was 50-47 with 30 seconds left. Tony Camillucci called his last timeout. The Hillgals needed one more huge break.
They missed a shot, but they got the rebound. Moved the ball around the top of the circle. It came to Maddie Mohar, their scoring leader on the season. She’d had a mostly quiet game.
With five seconds left, she buried a three-pointer.
Placer’s fan base erupted. Patterson had no more timeouts. They got the ball to Sam Dougherty, who dribbled up to the half-court line and heaved the ball. It didn’t come close.
But a foul had been called. The referees ruled Dougherty had been bumped before she shot. There were just 0.02 seconds left on the clock.
Dougherty went to the line to shoot two, Placer having committed 10 team fouls in the half. She needed to make only one of them. She made the first.
Comeback over. Game over.
‘It would have been nice to go to overtime,” Tony Camillucci said. “I think we had the momentum if we’d gotten it to overtime.”
It was not to be.
Knoble led the Hillgals with 16 points, 12 in the last quarter. Lewis, Mollie Brogdon – more on her in a bit – and Mohar had six points each. Laura Condosta, Gwen Conlee, Julkia Camillucci and Jessica Baker all finished with four points each.
Jaden Rodriguez paced the Tigers with 14 points, and Amaya Nelson added 11. Dougherty finished with seven – none larger than her final point.
Camillucci refused to pin the loss on the last play, however.
“We did some uncharacteristic things early,” he said. “We had some open looks early. We just didn’t shoot well.”
Neither team did in the first quarter, which ended with Placer ahead, 13-11. The second quarter was even worse for Placer – the Hillgals didn’t make a field goal until Mollie Brogdon buried a three from the top of the circle with 1:40 left.
Brogdon followed that up with a steal and a fast-break layup, her personal 5-point run bringing the Hillgals to within 24-21, before Patterson scored just before the buzzer to take a 26-21 lead into the break.
The third quarter began with a nightmare for the Hillgals. Brogdon, whose steady ballhandling and defensive intensity was perhaps most responsible for Placer being within shouting distance of Patterson in the first half, turned her ankle just two minutes into the quarter and had to be helped off the court.
She did not return.
“She heard a pop,” Camillucci said. “She wanted to go back in. I wouldn’t let her. In the end, it’s just a game. She would have played if we’d let her.”
Instead, she had to let her teammates make the comeback without her.
And they came so agonizingly close to doing just that.