The Gilroy and Live Oak girls basketball teams have had their fair share of adversity this season.
Both squads have had to navigate injuries and in the Acorns’ situation, they’ve also dealt with a variety of other issues that have prevented them from having their full complement of players since the first week of December.
But true to form, the teams battled for the full 32 minutes when they met for a key Blossom Valley Athletic League West Valley Division game on Jan. 19. Maria Munoz’s putback with a second left gave the Acorns a 38-36 win and strengthened their grip to win the league championship.
Live Oak is a perfect 7-0 and in first place in division play and Gilroy was 5-2 entering Thursday night’s game against James Lick. It was only fitting that the Acorns’ last-second bucket came off an offensive rebound, because they absolutely dominated the glass with 31 offensive rebounds, a staggering number considering most teams need anywhere from three to five games to accumulate that total.
Kat Clement led the Acorns with nine points and 15 rebounds, including 14 offensive, and Isabella Pinula grabbed 13 rebounds (seven offensive). However, Live Oak had a rough shooting night, missing north of a dozen shots from close range.
“We’d been missing all night long from two feet and in, and well, I guess we made the one that counted,” Acorns coach Mike Kiefer said.
Munoz was among a half-dozen players in the paint when she grabbed the final rebound so Kiefer didn’t know she had scored the game-winner until several minutes afterward. Live Oak led the majority of the way until Gilroy surged in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 30-21 with 6 minutes, 55 seconds remaining, the Mustangs outscored the Acorns 15-8 the rest of the way. Alihanna Alvarez was the only player to hit double figures with 12 points, and it was her jumper from just inside the 3-point line on the left wing that gave Gilroy a 33-31 lead with 1:02 to go, the team’s first since midway through the first quarter.
After a couple of exchanges, Live Oak retook the lead only to see Alvarez hit a jumper to make it 36-36. The Acorns missed a couple of shots on their final possession, but Munoz grabbed a rebound in traffic and put the ball back up, where it seemed to bounce on the back of the rim for an eternity before dropping in.
That came with a second left which didn’t leave Gilroy any time to get a shot off.
“We talk about it in practice that every possession is going to matter, and of course it comes down to a tie game and the last shot wins it,” Mustangs coach Mitch Pierce said. “But I’m very pleased with the girls’ effort tonight. They’re getting better every game, and that’s all I can ask. Obviously, I wish we would’ve gotten the win, but no reason to hang our heads. The girls did phenomenal and we look forward to playing Live Oak again.”
It seemed like old times for Kiefer and Pierce, who enjoy coaching against each other. Pierce is back on the Gilroy sideline in his second stint with the program.
“I’m happy to see Mitch back,” Kiefer said. “We got the opportunity to coach against each other in the past and he’s always done a great job with his girls. They always sell out and give it their all, they work hard and it makes it difficult on not just us but on any opponent.”
Pierce had equally complimentary things to say about Kiefer.
“Mike’s a good guy [and that’s why] I enjoy playing Live Oak,” Pierce said. “Just good people [over there].”
Both coaches said they were pleased with the effort their girls gave them. Players were jostling for loose balls seemingly on every other possession, as both teams had issues with taking care of the basketball. Live Oak had 23 turnovers and Gilroy 29.
This was the 11th consecutive game in which the Acorns were not at full strength. They recently got standout Maya Rafat back from injury but Emma Ghione was out for this game due to a “severe case of the flu,” Kiefer said.
Despite all that, the aforementioned players along with Isabelle Cline, Amaya Valencia and Rian Henderson (seven points) have helped the team stay on course to win a league title. Pinula wreaks havoc defensively in the opposing team’s backcourt, and the team is rounding into form.
“We’re slowly trying to get ourselves healthy and we’re still young and have room to grow,” Kiefer said. “We’ve been dealing with some adversity, but the girls fight to the bitter end and that’s all I can ask.”
Erin Castro had eight points for Gilroy and Marina Laroche seven. The Mustangs lost starting point guard Adisyn Hulbert to injury in the previous game, so Pierce was pleased to see guards like Alvarez, Laroche, Zirou Zhen and Alexis Mydell step up and play some significant minutes.
Junior post Lilia Leonardo had four blocks and was a defensive presence.
“Lilia, she’s my beast inside,” Pierce said. “She does everything. She dribbles the ball, she rebounds, and she never gets tired and always gives 100% effort.”