Sierra College women advance to Elite Eight

Wolverines battle No. 1 SJ Delta Saturday in Stockton
By: Matt Folsom/Placer Herald Sports
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Wednesday’s Northern California Regional semifinal began as a frenzied shootout between two of the top women’s basketball teams in the state. It ended in a decisive rout by a Sierra College team that is peaking at just the right time.

The fourth-seeded Wolverines ran past, around, over and through the No. 5 City College of San Francisco Rams 82-57 to advance to their fourth Elite Eight in head coach Brandie Murrish’s eight years at Sierra.

A relentless Wolverine transition game, fueled by a hostile, game-long full-court press, produced five Sierra players who scored in double figures and left the battered Rams with a long ride back to The City.

“Our defense was on point,” Murrish said afterward. “The players said they wanted to play angry on defense. We took three charges, made some big blocks and steals that really changed the momentum late in the first half.”

CCSF wanted to get the ball into the hands of All-State forward Tatsiana Dashkevich and let her create. The Rams looked to push the ball inside for scoring opportunities from their post players or dump it back outside for wide-open 3-pointers. That strategy had produced a 25-3 record and a Coast-North Conference title.

While Dashkevich maneuvered her way to a game-high 17 points and the Rams converted eight 3s, Sierra’s trio of bigs, Haleigh Lis, Tina Mandich and Jasmine Shedrick set a bruising tone that held CCSF’s muscular Geena Greene scoreless and frontcourt mate Kiah Knox to 10.

“Going into the game, I never would have thought our posts would be the more physical posts,” said Murrish. “They were playing hard, banging and knocking people around.”

Even the smooth, athletic Dashkevich had to work harder than usual for her points, thanks to Dakota McLarnan. “Dakota set the tone against her by making her work just to try to get open,” Murrish said. “(CCSF’s) top seven players are legit, inside and out, and we wanted to make them work for everything.”

The game opened at a frenetic pace that ignited the capacity Goto/Goldenberg Court crowd. The teams traded baskets until Sierra (23-8) crept out to a 37-28 lead with just over six minutes left in the first. Five straight points by the Rams’ Raquel Torres made it 37-34 before Sierra’s Aliya Davis keyed a 15-6 Wolverine run. Davis scored seven points inside the 5:26 mark to lead Sierra to a 52-37 halftime advantage.

All this without Sierra’s All-State guard Ericka Magana, who went to the bench with two fouls with 13:55 left in the first. Magana’s triple double had almost single-handedly sent Ohlone packing in the NorCal quarterfinal, but her time on the bench against CCSF was barely noticed.

“That just shows the balance we have on this team,” noted Murrish of Magana’s absence. “Davis stepped up, (Ashley) Jenkins stepped up, Dakota showed tremendous leadership at both ends. But our freshmen showed what they can do after a tough preseason schedule and, of course, the Big 8.”

If Davis was responsible for the late first-half run, it was fellow freshman Jenkins who provided the game-long consistency. Jenkins finished with a team-high 13 points, to go with eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. Magana had eight rebounds, and five assists along with nine points.

“Our point guards (Jenkins and Magana) executed our game plan perfectly,” said Sierra assistant Scott Pisik. “Our one jammed them at the point on nearly every possession and (the Rams) haven’t seen that in their league all season.”

Mandich opened the second half with a pair of buckets that gave Sierra a 56-37 lead. Back-to-back buckets from Torres helped the Rams close to with 58-45 at 13:00, but they would get no closer.

“We wore them down in the second half and forced them to play transition defense,” Murrish said.

A Magana 3 made it 78-43 with 6:30 left. Lis hit a jumper from the free-throw line and Knox made a short jumper to close out the scoring and bring the home crowd to its feet.

“We made some big plays, especially in the first half that really got the crowd into the game,” said Murrish. “They were excited about the defensive plays, the steals, the blocks, the charges, not just the big scoring plays.”

Shedrick (12 points), Lis (seven) and Mandich (eight) combined for 27 points up front. Super-sub Joie Camalo contributed 11, and Davis and McLarnan had 10 each.

Next up for Sierra is Big 8 Conference rival and No. 1 North seed San Joaquin Delta College (26-5) in Saturday’s Regional Final at 7 p.m. in Stockton. Sierra opened the Big 8 with a 69-63 win at Delta last November. The Mustangs pulled out a tense 86-79 OT win in Rocklin Jan. 31.

“Delta is a lot like us,” said Murrish, looking ahead. “They like to use their bench, they want to run and they can hit 3s. But, like always, it will boil down to rebounding and the transition game.”