Thacher Toad hoopsters hop into CIF semifinals
By Jesse Phelps
Thacher's varsity girls are the last area
school basketball team still standing after a week of CIF playoff
By virtue of wins this week over Scotts Academy and second-ranked
Santa Clarita Christian, Thacher has moved into the semi-finals
of the CIF Division VAA playoffs and will now take on a tough
New Roads squad in a bid to reach the finals.
In a physical matchup against Scotts Academy, Thacher won by
a sizable margin, 74-51, but coach Melissa Johnson said it "felt
like a three point game."
Scotts was penalized for two technical fouls, one on the coach,
in a hotly contested match. Thacher's players maintained their
"The task was growing up, not being rattled by their press,"
Johnson said. "So much of coaching and playing is momentum
Thacher center Whitney Livermore, junior co-captain, scored 23
points, using her size inside to score over the top of the defense.
But the play of the game, said Johnson, was a rebound in which
Livermore skyed above everyone to snatch the ball out of the
night in an impressive show of athleticism.
Freshman off-guard Erica Puccetti had 16 and junior forward Steph
Rauner contributed 15 for the Toads. Sophomore point guard Becky
Horton scored 11 points and senior co-captain Annie Wheatley
Johnson said, "Our kids were getting knocked around quite
a bit, but they managed to dig really deep, play good defense
and hit hit the boards. They played really well as a team and
maintained their composure."
The ensuing match against Santa Clarita Christian provided an
even tougher test for the Toads.
The Cardinals, "a very well-coached, very disciplined, very
scrappy team," in Johnsosn's words, staged a last-minute
comeback that nearly sent Thacher packing early.
"I don't think we played a team this year that hit the boards
as hard as they did," Johnson said.
Down 15-10 after one quarter, Thacher outscored Santa Clarita
Christian by eight points to take a 28-25 halftime lead.
The third quarter featured a lot of back-and-forth action and
the teams switched leads several times. The Cardinal press harried
the Toads and several turnovers turned into easy hoops in transition
for Santa Clarita Christian.
Johnson said, "They try to create chaos with their press
and they do a good job of it. They've been in tight games and
know how to put pressure on." Still, the Toads led by one
heading into the fourth.
Thacher managed to pull away in the opening minutes of the fourth
quarter and things looked good for the Toads, up seven with a
minute and half to go. Then the Cardinals made their run.
"We've been in these situations before," Johnson told
her team in the huddle. "The most important thing is to
get the last shot."
Off the inbounds pass, Thacher went to its motion offense. Pucetti,
who led Thacher with 19 points, found a crease and drove to the
hoop. For a moment, it looked as if she'd been tied up underneath
but with the clock running down, she managed to pull the ball
free and pass to Wheatly on the baseline, who launched an 8-footer
toward the goal.
"I saw the ball and I thought to myself, Oh, my God, that's
going to go in," said Johnson. "It was like underwater,
Go in it did and Santa Clarita tried in vain to call time out
as the clock hit zeroes.
Johnson said, "The sweetest words I'd heard all day came
from the ref as he turned and said, 'That's the ballgame.'"
The final score was Thacher 58, Santa Clarita Christian 56.
Wheatley scored seven points on the night, none more important
than the game-winner. Rauner had 13, Livermore 10 and Horton,
who had been experiencing flu-like symptoms, chipped in nine.
"Horton is the general," said Johnson. "Becky,
in so many games this year, when things start to go bad, has
single-handedly shifted the momentum of the game. She's a coach's
Johnson was ecstatic about her entire team's effort."Livermore
is a stabilizing force for us," she said. "Rauner,
she's fantastic. Great natural skills. She's very fluid, very
coordinated. You have to honor her outside, which makes her really
tough to guard."
New Roads, Thacher's next opponent, has been dominating opponents
with an average margin of victory of 22 points in the tournament.
"We'll just stick to our game plan, do what we do well and
leave everything we've got on the court," said Johnson.
Thacher won the coin-flip and will play in Ojai at 7:30 p.m.
on Saturday at Villanova or Nordhoff.
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
LIVERMORE SOARS FOR another basket in a recent game against VIllanova.
Livermore has been a rock for Thacher in the playoffs and in
regular season play. In the Toads' game against Scotts Academy,
she netted 23 points; against Santa Clarita Christian, she scored