Gavilan College women’s basketball coach Erik Nelson had to remind himself to breathe during the final minutes Tuesday against West Hills College.
“I was telling our coaches that it might have been the longest 2 minutes and 45 seconds in my life,” Nelson said. “I am just really proud of our girls and their resiliency.”
He anxiously watched as a 12-point advantage slowly slipped away. West Hills drew within five points before Tawne Haynish hit a clutch 3-pointer to help seal the 57-53 win – Gavilan’s first since returning to play after a seven-year absence.
“We have been working hard to get better,” Haynish said. “We went after it hard and got it.”
The Rams (1-9) were coming off a tournament at Moorpark College over the weekend in which they played three games in three days with just six players. The rotation also featured six players Tuesday. But what the Rams lacked in numbers, they made up for in intensity.
“I think we did a really good job making the extra pass and not letting them get a lot of transition fast break points,” Nelson said. “We really emphasize making the hockey assist. Not necessarily the person who passes the ball but the person who sets up the play.”
The Rams were down 38-37 in the second half before going on a 13-0 run, started by a 3-pointer by Breanna Hernandez.
Hernandez led all scorers with 20 points, including four of the six shots Gavilan had from outside the arc.
“I feel I can be more of an outside threat,” Hernandez said. “I have been working on that during practice. We played more as a team and just had fun.”
Andreinna Castaneda, who had 17 points for the Rams, said she had a feeling coming into the game that they would win.
“We felt really good coming in,” she said. “We really had a good tournament over the weekend. Our passing was really good and we got some good looks.”
Gavilan overcame a seven-point deficit to build a 32-25 lead at the half. The Rams used a 12-0 run over a three-minute span and an 18-4 run in the final seven minutes of the first half to pull ahead.
Gavilan’s defense stepped up its intensity and forced the Golden Eagles into several turnovers. West Hills couldn’t get anything established in the paint in the final 10 minutes of the first half and was forced to fire up shots from outside.
“We want to be an up-tempo pressing team,” Nelson said. “We want them to have opportunities on the offensive end because of how hard they are working on the defensive end.”
After a slow start to the game, the Rams were forced to play catch-up. Gavilan had to call a timeout after falling behind 13-7 when Amber Carson hit a 3-pointer with 14:47 left in the first. The Rams were down 21-14 before making their run.
Jenny Gallegos and Nereida Padilla had 14 points for the Golden Eagles (3-8).
Vanessa Wilkins, Divena Flores and Haynish had six points for the Rams.
“We talked about how teams are going to go on runs and you have to be resilient and go on runs of your own,” Nelson said. “Being in a close game like that and being able to execute down the stretch will give you confidence. It will help us moving forward being able to keep our composure because we have already been there.”
Gavilan will host Napa Valley at 6 p.m. Tuesday.