BUTTE VALLEY — Through two games of Golden Valley Conference play, the Butte College women’s basketball team is still trying to rediscover the mojo that guided the Roadrunners from the season’s beginning through the end of December.
In small glimpses, the mojo has reappeared, such as Saturday when Butte flipped a 10-point lead over Shasta at the end of the third quarter and pounced on the Knights over the final 10 minutes to win 80-54 in the Sierra Pacific Industries College Game of the Week.
The run started near the end of the third when Butte’s Elyana Croninger drained a 3-pointer to put the Roadrunners up 56-46. Then after hitting a free throw and a layup, she flipped ahead to Aleia Milano for a fastbreak layup before adding another shot from deep. The final dagger gave the Roadrunners a 15-point cushion just a couple of minutes into the fourth, prompting Shasta to call a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Butte starters Samantha Caires, Chloe Mayer and Chantel Williams rejoined Croninger and Milano on the floor, and the Roadrunners (15-5, 1-1 Golden Valley Conference) continued to pour on the points, outscoring Shasta 24-8 in the final quarter. Caires led Butte with 16 points, Mayer had 15 while Milano and Croninger added 14 each.
“We decided to play the way we play,” Butte head coach Tyler Newton said. “It was very frustrating. We haven’t been able to kind of find the mojo we had before the break. We’re still trying to find it. Our defense is nowhere where it needs to be to accomplish the goals that we have. … We’re trying to go with whoever can give us a spark, and we found a group out there at that time where we decided to play about four minutes of Butte College basketball. And when we do, we look pretty damn good.”
For much of the first three quarters, even though the Knights (12-8, 0-3 GVC) were trailing, they wore the Roadrunners’ defense thin. Jenna Wallace torched Butte for 20 points in the first half, owing to a combination of outside shooting and leaking out in transition for easy baskets in the paint.
“She’s just a tremendous player,” Shasta head coach Jerry Brown said. “You got a 6-footer like that who runs the floor, creates opportunities in transition; she can step out and shoot the 3. She’s just a good player. She’s solid all the way around.”
With Wallace, who tallied a game-high 27 points, and point guard Megan Collins, a Biggs High alumna, leading Shasta’s offense, the Knights threatened to seize momentum on a couple of occasions in the third quarter.
Collins twice brought the Knights within six, the latter time as she buried a 3 over Mayer with five minutes left in the quarter. But Shasta was unable to get any closer from there.
Collins picked up her fourth foul, on a charge that Croninger drew at the 3:37 mark of the third. Then, 15 seconds into the fourth, Collins was called for a fifth and final foul, forcing her to watch the rest of the game from the bench.
“If she’s out of the game, then we struggle,” Brown said. “It’s just night and day. It’s not a hard thing to figure out. And it got away. I thought we played really, really well against this team for three quarters. And then it got away.”
While Croninger provided the initial spark to the fourth with shooting, passing and rebounding (she finished with a team-high 12 boards), Milano earned lion’s share of praise from Newton for her relentless activity throughout the game, which yielded a team-high five steals, and pushing the fastbreak to give Butte a necessary jolt.
“Every game, just because the league is so good, we have to approach with a championship-game mentality,” said Milano, a transfer from Siskiyous. “It’s my sophomore year; I have eight games left that are promised. Every minute — I got to make the most of every minute. Next week is a championship game too. That’s kind of how I took today.”
Though Shasta came up short of its first conference win in three tries, the Knights are hardly discouraged. The GVC is notably deep this season, with Butte, Feather River, Lassen, Redwoods and Siskiyous all ranked in the Northern California top 13, per the latest California Community College Women’s Basketball Coaches Association poll, released Jan. 13.
Brown, who’s coached at Shasta since 1993, can’t recall another season that many GVC teams were ranked so high.
“This is the first time that I can remember where five teams are ranked in the top 13 in Northern California,” he said. “I was telling the girls, ‘Hell, two of the teams we beat in the preseason not that long ago — Merritt and De Anza — are first place in their conference. We’re in a conference that’s been loaded and we’re struggling to get a win out of it. It’s a freakish year. We’ll keep plugging away though. We’ll pick somebody off.”
Zoppi leads Butte men over Shasta
The Roadrunners men’s basketball team held visiting Shasta to just six field goals for the first half Saturday afternoon, but their own offensive struggles were also on display at times.
With a 29-15 lead at halftime, Butte extended its lead to 19 with baskets from Eric Marbley, Noah Zoppi and Reece Kettle. Following Kettle’s jumper, however, the Roadrunners (11-7, 1-1 GVC) went without a basket for nearly six minutes, while Shasta clawed its way back to a 45-35 deficit.
The 9-2 run started with a Simmer Singh fastbreak layup, before Singh and Adam Shoff added 3-pointers and Jonny Cruz hit a pair of free throws.
Butte called a timeout with under six minutes remaining, and promptly ended its drought with Caden Turner scoring inside and Zoppi completing a three-point play.
With 3:26 remaining, Butte worked a methodical possession, sharing the ball around the perimeter and inside, where Eric Spencer scored on a layup to give the Roadrunners a 52-36 lead, and eventually, help reach their first GVC win.
Zoppi led all scorers with 23 points, while going 7-for-7 from the line, Shakwon Lewis added 13 and Spencer had 11.
For Shasta (10-11, 1-2 GVC), Zach Thompson earned a team-high 12 points.
College Men’s Basketball
Butte 58, Shasta 42
Shasta — Thompson 12, Singh 7, Shoff 5, Hoag 5, Gorden 4, Bidwell 3, Plunkitt 2, Cruz 2, Phipps 2.
Butte — Zoppi 23, Lewis 13, Spencer 11, Nelloms 5, Turner 2, Kettle 2, Marbley 2.
Halftime — Butte 29-15. 3-point goals — Shasta 5 (Thomspon, Bidwell, Singh, Shoff, Gorden), Butte 3 (Zoppi 2, Lewis).
College Women’s Basketball
Butte 80, Shasta 54
Shasta – 18-14-14-8 — 54
Butte – 27-13-16-24 — 80
Shasta — Wallace 27, Collins 10, Wallen 7, Cummings 6, Larson 4.
Butte — Caires 16, Mayer 15, Milano 14, Croninger 14, Fogle 6, Servin-Smith 5, Jones 5, Williams 3, Lewis 2.
3-point goals — Shasta 7 (Wallace 3, Collins 2, Cummings 2), Butte 13 (Croninger 3, Caires 2, Mayer 2, Williams, Milano, Jones, Servin-Smith).
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