In 2017-18, the Redding Christian girls basketball team fell 50-49 to Fall River in the Northern Section Division VI finals. Last season, the Lions handled the Bulldogs 57-42 in the D-VI semis before beating Etna in overtime for the section title.
This year, the No. 1 seed Lions used a 22-point third-quarter burst to separate from No. 4 Loyalton in the semifinals to draw Fall River in the postseason for the third straight year as Redding Christian downed the Grizzles 54-23 at home on Tuesday.
All postseason coverage is presented by Redding Rancheria.
“That’s been our goal the whole time,” Lions coach Scott Alexander said of reaching the section finals. “We’ve had our eyes on it the whole season and the girls are super excited.
“Anything less would’ve been a disappointment.”
But before the Lions earned the chance to go back-to-back, they had to find a way to get past the 19-10 Grizzlies.
A forgettable first half found Redding Christian up 16-12 as both teams struggled with rhythm as fouls were dished out with a better than one-a-minute average.
“We couldn’t hit a shot in the first half and I thought we played very panicky,” Alexander said.
He said the team used the intermission to inhale, exhale, recompose and adjust.
“We made an adjustment at half to matchup differently against their 3-2 zone,” the coach said, adding the Lions put shooters in the corners and post Sammie Wunner down on the block forcing the Grizzlies to pick their poison.
“It caused major confusion,” Alexander said. “Sammie got two quick scores in the middle and (when they adjusted) that left Aleah (Matos) wide open in the corner.”
And left alone in the corner was a bad thing for Loyalton as the Redding Christian junior got hot on her way to a game-high 18 points.
The Lions opened the period with two free throws from Wunner and followed that with a Sadie Alexander steal and dish out to Matos for a left-corner 3-ball and a 21-12 lead.
A minute later, Wunner, who scored 11 along with freshman Bailey Matos, hit a bucket in the paint with a smooth drop-step and scored again two possessions later on an inbounds play.
Aleah Matos would swish another triple from the left corner to give the Lions a 28-15 edge and coach Alexander finally felt like his team has settled in.
“Once we got to a simple 10-point lead, you could see a little bit of the calm and poise – a poise we didn’t have in the first half,” he said.
But the Lions didn’t let up. After a Darlynn Reed banked 3-pointer cut the lead to 28-18, Kaylee Jones scored for the Lions on a nifty give-and-go.
Matos, not wanting to leave the right corner unused, spotted up there two minutes later for her third trey of the quarter. The Lions finished off the quarter going 6-of-6 from the charity stripe, with Matos hitting four on a sweet arc that’s reminiscent of a Purvis Short rainbow, to take a 39-20 edge into the fourth.
From there it was a matter of not fouling players out – several had four – and letting Loyalton any momentum.
“I was thinking we were safe,” Alexander said.
Loyalton – 6-6-8-3 – 23
Redding Christian – 4-12-22-15 – 54
No. 4 Grizzlies (19-10) – Buell 1, Meschery 2, Delbarba 3, Sheridan 4, Reed 6, Durney 7.
No. 1 Lions (20-5) – C. Jones 2, K. Jones 3, Chew 4, Alexander 5, Wunner 11, B. Matos 11, A, Matos 18.
3-pointers – LHS – 2: Reed, Durney; RCS – 4: Alexander, A. Matos (3)