BASKETBALL: Mustangs defend home court against Balers, 44-38

Gilroy's Williams drives through San Benito's defense during a game earlier this season.

With five games to play in the Tri-County Athletic League regular season, the Gilroy High and San Benito girls varsity basketball teams were eyeing the postseason from different perspectives as the two took the floor against one another Tuesday.

On one hand, the Balers, looking to keep pace with the leaders, entered action one-game back of first-place Notre Dame and Salinas. On the other, the Mustangs know the must win out or at least finish at .500 to turn playoff aspirations into reality. Something had to give in Gilroy on Tuesday night.

Behind 17 points from Kaylana Mah and another 14 from Ashlee Williams, the Mustangs outlasted the Balers 44-38 to split the season series between the two rivals. San Benito handed Gilroy a 44-30 loss in the first meeting Jan. 5.

“Very disappointing for us, obviously,” San Benito head coach Mitch Burley said. “You are kind of in control of where you’re headed if you take care of your own business. I told the girls that we had five games to do that. Obviously, we didn’t do that in the first of those five.”

Neither side led by more than five points until a pair of Mah free throws, which were part of a 6-0 spurt, lifted the Mustangs (9-10 overall, 3-5 TCAL) to a 41-35 lead with 1:20 to play in the fourth quarter. Twenty seconds later, a well-timed three-point play by San Benito center Kelsey Robledo brought the Balers  (11-9 overall, 4-4 TCAL) to within one possession, 41-38. They could get no closer, as three consecutive 3-point shots went off target. A Williams layup pushed the advantage back to five points and a Mah free throw iced it.

“We have a tough time matching up with (San Benito.) But we really switched a lot of things up tonight and I think that surprised them,” GHS head coach Kort Jensen said. “That one was really huge.”

Gilroy staked out to a 13-10 lead after the first quarter. But the Balers settled into a flow in the second quarter, limiting the production of Williams in the paint and, in turn, feeding Robledo under their own basket. San Benito held Gilroy to just three points – all by Kayla Guardino – in that second quarter and harnessed a 19-16 cushion at the break. Robledo and Ellie Burley each tallied four point in the quarter.

“We were struggling inside, so in the second half I just stretched the floor, which opened it up for Ashlee,” Jensen said.

Williams scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half – six in each quarter – and, coupled with Mah’s 10 in the second half, the Mustangs flip-flopped the three-point lead in their favor, 31-28.

The score was tied 35-35 before Gilroy’s quick 6-0 run, which proved to be the space it needed to close out the victory.

“I don’t think we got it inside enough,” Burley said. “We just weren’t very efficient. We hit some shots early and then in the second half nothing fell. So, we missed those opportunities we had.”

Robledo led the Balers with 13 points, Burley had five points and 12 rebounds and Madeleine LePore chipped in six points. For the Mustangs, Athena Alarcon had five points and Kayla Guardino delivered six points in the team-oriented win.

“We each have different things that we bring to the team,” Williams said. “We need everyone to bring what they do every game. If we don’t have that, it’s tough.”

The Mustangs face another must-win Thursday night on the road against North Salinas, a team that upended them 40-39 on Jan. 10.

“If we play like we did, as a team tonight, we are going to make a run at the playoffs,” Alarcon said.

NOTES: Gilroy senior guard Michelle Sosa suited up one final time before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL, which she suffered back in December. Jensen said the surgery is scheduled for Friday. Sosa, who had put off the procedure as long as she could, contributed three assists two rebounds and two points – a bucket that came late in the fourth quarter in the game.

Mah, who suffered a knee injury of her own in December, shot 5-of-8 from the floor in her best game since returning to the lineup.

“When I play it doesn’t hurt. I feel fine,” Mah said.

Salinas and Notre Dame both improved to 6-2 in the TCAL on Tuesday night to uphold their share of first.

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