Like she has done over and over again in practice this season, Merrett Brown received a pass at the left elbow, squared herself to the hoop and let loose. Though it was a bit different Wednesday night. This time, a boisterous, raucous crowd flooded the Christopher High gym with chants and cheers, there were 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the program’s first league title hung in the balance.
To Brown, it was all background noise and side notes.
“I couldn’t hear anything. I didn’t see anything but the basket,” Brown said.
Practice makes perfect.
The senior dialed up an 18-footer from just inside the 3-point arc hit and all net, which counted as the first two of four straight points Brown delivered with time winding down to lift the Cougars to a heart-pounding 32-28 victory over Monte Vista Christian, clinching at least a share of the Monterey Bay League crown – on Senior Night, no less.
“I just took the shot and I made it,” Brown said simply, still processing four of the biggest points she’s scored in her prep career. “I think finishing is what counts the most – and I finished. They are a good team and wanted it. We just wanted it more, I guess.”
CHS made it official with one final defensive stand that drained the remaining 5 seconds left on the game clock.
“To set that kind of a tone with a young program is huge for us moving forward,” CHS head coach Heather Stewart said. “To this date, that was the biggest win we have had. It’s great for them to see what their hard work and effort can accumulate to.”
About 40 CHS students stormed the court as the buzzer sounded, surrounding the latest CHS champions. A win Friday at Watsonville in the season finale will give CHS the title outright.
“It felt good to have all those students out there, because they don’t usually come to our games,” CHS junior Hanna Tabron said. “That gave us a lot of energy.”
CHS (17-5, 10-1 MBL) and MVC (15-6, 8-3 MBL) came into the contest separated by one game in the MBL – the Cougars holding the edge. However, with the Mustangs handing CHS its lone loss – 55-50 in overtime on Jan. 19 – another MVC win would have created a three-way tie for first – Seaside being the other team involved.
The scenarios set the stage. The atmosphere packed playoff potency. And the action on the court played out like a heavyweight bout – physical and hard-fought wire-to-wire.
“I expected the physicality tonight,” Stewart said. “We are at the point of the season where we can’t back down. It was a high-emotion game. And in those types of games, it’s going to be physical.”
The intense, rough-and-tumble nature of the game made for multiple turnovers at the expense of both offenses that still somehow managed to answer the other shot for shot.
“It’s frustrating, but the girls did well,” MVC head coach Jennifer Keathley said. “I was proud of the girls. Like I told them, it was a good game for them. They aren’t used to things being that physical. They were able to stay controlled and make some good decisions. We would’ve liked to have come away with the win, but I’m glad it came down to the two of us for the league championship.”
MVC asserted itself on the offensive glass from the get go and used a bundle of second-chance points to ignite an 11-4 lead after the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Cougars struggled from the floor, not converting their first field goal until 12 seconds left in the opening period.
Points remained at a premium in the second quarter, as the two teams combined for 11. A Hanna Tabron runner and an Olivia Tabron bucket and free throw made it 11-9 MVC midway through the second. It was 13-11 when Maddy Cortese hit a deep two-pointer at the buzzer to set the Mustangs ahead by four at the break.
Five straight points from Hanna Tabron provided the Cougars with their first lead of the night, 20-17. However, MVC carried a slim 23-22 lead into the final period.
One minute into the fourth, Cydney Caradonna gave CHS a 24-23 with a midrange jumper. Alysa Castillo earned the lead right back to the Mustangs, 25-24. The Tabron sisters hit back-to-back buckets to make it 28-25 CHS. The Mustangs responded on cue, using an Aiko Shallenberger free throw and a Sydney Beadle rebound and put back to tie matters at 28-28 with two minutes to go.
Brown’s make put CHS ahead 30-28 as time ticked under 30 seconds. Jenni Sigl, who also grabbed three key rebounds earlier in the quarter, stole the ball as the Mustangs tried to advance to half court. Two passes set up a wide-open layup for Brown.
“I told (Jenni) the second half was show time for her,” Stewart said. “She was able to make an impact for us.”
And after all of that, the two squads may very well meet again in the MBL postseason tournament, which pits the top-five regular-season finishers.
“That’d be nice. We’d like that,” Keathley said. “Last year was three times, too.”
NOTES: Beadle finished with eight points and 14 rebounds … Hanna Tabron quietly led all scorers with 13 points and Olivia Tabron contributed nine… CHs shot 14-of-52, MVC 13-of-56… Brown, along with fellow seniors Haylee Peterson, Sophia Amelio, Ashanti Clayton and Ebony Stevens were saluted prior to the game. The junior varsity team also won, 46-20.
• On a banner night for CHS athletics, in Seaside on Wednesday the Cougars wrestling team wrapped up a MBL title with a 53-22 triumph over the Spartans.