After tough section finals loss, Cougars to open state playoffs in The City

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald
Marielle Schnack, who scored 15 points and was named the Cougars' section championship game Sportsmanship award winner, shoots over Durham's Katherine Freitas Friday at Shasta College.

The dream died agonizingly just out of reach for the Weed Cougars Friday afternoon in Redding.

The end game played out like a nightmare for a Weed team that was 6 points ahead and 4 minutes away from being the first team in school history to win a Northern Section girls basketball championship.

Junior Destinee Jones wrestled on the floor for a loose ball for what seemed like an eternity. By the time she rose to her feet with it, time expired on a 53-49 loss to Durham.

A trio of foul calls on senior Jill Neel did not sit well with Cougar fans, especially a charging call that negated a basket which would have tied the score at 51-51 with 1:23 to play.

See video clips of that play and others from the game

Head coach Bob West wasn’t blaming the foul calls for the loss two days after the game.

West and the Cougars are moving forward into the state playoffs, and are scheduled to play a first round game Wednesday night in San Francisco against the same team they played last year, International of San Francisco.

North Coast Section champion International is seeded No. 3 in the Northern California bracket, while Weed is No. 14.

“I’m proud of the girls,” West said Sunday evening. “They battled back the way they have all season. We have nothing to hang our heads about.”

West described the series of foul calls against Neel as “a tough sequence,” but said, “We put ourselves in the situation where a foul call could hurt us. We had opportunities, but we didn’t put together a full game.”

Thirteen seconds after the charge call, Neel was called for a blocking foul, and her brief expression of frustration drew a technical foul.

Even a prominent Durham fan admitted after the game that the blocking foul on Neel wasn’t right.

A Weed fan asked if the newspaper was planning to print the names of the officials.

Durham missed all three resulting free throws, but still had possession. The Cougars stole the ball. Durham stole it back and scored the game’s final two points on a jump shot.

The flood of emotions as the teams gathered afterwards in front of their respective benches could hardly have been more disparate.

“I thought we had ’em,” West said in the parking lot when asked for his comments just after the game.

He pointed to some things that went wrong for his team and some things that went right for Durham.

“They hit a couple big threes at the end, and we missed a couple free throws,” West said.

He said the Cougars’ transition defense was off when Durham scored 20 points in the first quarter. But they adjusted and gave up just 33 points the rest of the game.

“Our effort was there... We played well enough to win except for a couple stretches,” said West, whose team lost to Durham by a wider margin in last year’s section championship game.

He did not mention the foul calls.

In a game of wild momentum changes, the two teams went basket-for-basket for much of the first quarter. Then Durham went on a 10-1 run and led 20-11.

Weed scored 6 in a row on a pair of buckets by senior Marielle Schnack and another by sophomore Angel Whatley. All three of those baskets were from close in, where the Cougars had a decided advantage throughout.

Weed trailed 31-23 at the half. It was 40-32 in the third quarter, just before everything clicked for the Cougars.

Fans from Weed and Mount Shasta, who cheered in unison for the Cougars – and later Mount Shasta’s boys team – were dancing in the stands during a 17-3 Cougar scoring streak that gave them a 49-43 lead with 4:11 to play.

They chanted “Cou-gar Pow-er” together. Later, they expressed their displeasure together for the foul calls on Neel.

Weed scored 8 straight to end the third quarter. Neel sank 6 free throw shots in a row, and Jones scored a second chance basket from underneath.

The Cougars answered a Durham three-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter with 9 points in row. Schnack’s free throw was followed by a Whatley put-back. A basket by Jones off an inbounds pass from Elyssa Fisher was followed by Lauren Gubetta’s three-pointer from the corner that rocked the joint.

Then, after a Jones free throw, everything changed again. The only basket the Cougars made in the final minutes – a sweet dream of a play it appeared to be for the briefest of moments – didn’t even count on the scoreboard.

In the end, Schnack received the Sportsmanship award given to one player from each team. Then she and the rest of the Cougars, in some kind of scene from the Groundhog Day flick, dug deep inside to find their smiles while having a team photo taken with the second place trophy.

Neel and Schnack finished with 15 points each. Jones scored 9, Whatley 4, Gubetta 3, junior Johanna Stensaas 2, and Fisher 1.

For Durham, junior guard Katherine Freitas (No. 21) scored 16 points and junior guard Lili Freitas (No. 34) scored 9.