Despite the tears welling in her eyes after her team’s 47-39 loss to Santa Cruz in the Central Coast Section Division IV semifinals, Mercy senior forward Kristy Lee still found the appropriate words to summarize the season for her gritty squad.
“We just keep fighting to the end,” said Lee, the co-Player of the Year in the West Bay Athletic League. “No one expected us to get this far, but we just kept fighting, no matter what happened to us.”
That character was on full display in Mercy’s loss to Santa Cruz on Tuesday as the seventh-seeded Skippers (18-10) pushed the third-seeded Cardinals (20-10) to the brink, but they could not come up with the upset victory.
Initially, it didn’t look like Mercy would be able to compete against the bigger, senior-laden Cardinals as Santa Cruz jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead in the first quarter, and extended that to 16-5 with a little over 2 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
However, Mercy responded, ending the half on a 10-1 run to pull within 17-15 at the break. Keeping the momentum going in the second half, Mercy began the third quarter by scoring four consecutive points to grab their first lead of the game at 19-17, then built their advantage to 25-19, to cap off a 20-3 run spanning two quarters.
Santa Cruz would not falter, despite the huge Mercy run. After a timeout, the Cardinals regrouped and switched to a zone defense in a move that proved to be the turning point of the game.
The new defensive look stifled Mercy and Santa Cruz went back to work on offense, getting a combined 19 points from seniors Alexis Tashima, Stephanie Dickey and Cole Conroy in a 23-5 run that changed a six-point deficit into a 42-30 lead with 2:30 left in the game.
“I think we rushed our shots a little when they went into the zone,” said Mercy coach Mike Gutierrez, who coaxed a successful season out of a team that lost seven seniors from last year’s squad. “Even though we lost today, I couldn’t be more proud of this team. We never gave up in this game and that’s how we played all season.”