St. Ignatius' defense fills in gaps for win over Pinewood in Sand Dune Classic final

Matt Zheng/Special to The SF ExaminerClamping down: Pinewood had a tough time finding room to score thanks to solid defense from Crystal Sun (11) and St. Ignatius.

The St. Ignatius girls’ basketball team had its worst offensive game of the season in the final of the Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic, but found a way to make up for its flaws by stepping up on defense to outlast Pinewood 47-29.

The Wildcats (9-1) trailed the Panthers after the first quarter 8-4, but St. Ignatius bounced back to take the lead before the half 19-15, and never looked back.

“Pinewood did a really good job on us and got us out of sync offensively, especially in the first six minutes of the game where we didn’t make very good decisions on offense,” St. Ignatius coach Mike Mulkerrins said. “But as the game went on, we made much better decisions with the ball.”

The Wildcats shot a painful 37 percent from the field, but that hardly mattered with the defensive intensity they had. The Panthers, the defending Division V state champions, looked so lost at times, it hardly mattered whether the Wildcats dropped back into their zone or stuck to full-court pressure man defense.

The Panthers (9-4) were led by freshman point guard Marissa Hing, who tallied six points, but she was the only Panthers player who could penetrate the Wildcats defense. At 5 feet tall, she had to make tough shots all evening against the taller Wildcats.

“When you think about a 14-year-old girl playing in an environment like this, it’s tremendous,” Pinewood coach Doc Schlepper said.

The game was physical throughout, with bodies flying, loose balls becoming a dogfight and intense battles for rebounds.

In the third quarter, the Wildcats flexed their strength when they took advantage of the physically defeated Panthers.

The Wildcats were led by seniors Maria Kaitlyn Crawley and Maria Kemiji-McDonald, who had 13 and 9 points, respectively. Crawley was named to the All-Tournament team.

Kemiji-McDonald was also crucial on the boards for the Wildcats, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

“After losing as a sophomore [in the tournament final], it was really great for all the seniors out here [to] finally win it,” Kemiji-McDonald said.

Next up for the Wildcats will be one final tuneup against Burlingame High School before opening West Catholic Athletic League against always tough Archbishop Mitty.

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