Toads find heartbreak on Thacher Hill, 43-40
By Jesse Phelps
The score was 40-34 in favor of the visiting
Central Valley Christian Cavaliers when Thacher's girls' basketball
team's leading scorer, Steffi Rauner, was benched with five fouls.
CVC had the ball with less than three minutes to play when Rauner
made her last big play of the year for Thacher.
Rauner powered to the hoop and flipped in a tough shot, even
as she was fouled hard underneath. The ensuing free throw pulled
Thacher to within three points and solidly shifted the momentum
in what was looking like a sure victory for CVC in the fourth
Moments later, senior forward Annie Wheatley grabbed a defensive
rebound and, after being fouled, nailed one of two free throws
to cut the deficit to two. In her final performance as a Toad,
Wheatley grabbed 10 rebounds to go with five points.
Thacher coach Melissa Johnson praised the effort of her lone
senior. "My deepest gratitude to Annie Wheatley," she
said, "on just throwing her heart out there on the court."
Freshman guard Erica Puccetti, coming off her toughest game of
the season in Thacher's CIF Southern Section championship game,
turned up the defense as the fourth quarter went along.
She stole the ball and earned two free throws with time on the
side of the Cavaliers. CVC coach Mark Branderhorst called time-out
after Puccetti missed the first. His icing tactic worked, as
Puccetti missed another and moments later, Rauner fouled out
trying to defend an interior move by CVC guard Nancy Vander Tuig.
Vander Tuig missed both shots and Thacher proceeded to give up
a series of offensive rebounds, allowing the clock to run down
to under a minute.Junior center Whitney Livermore then made her
biggest play of the night, a powerful block that got the packed
house of supporters out of their seats cheering. Puccetti took
the ball and drove the length of the court to earn two more free
After making one of two, she stole the ball again and earned
another two shots with the potential to give Thacher its first
lead since the start of the quarter. She made one and suddenly
the game was tied, the CIF state quarterfinals game on the line.
At the other end, CVC's Madison Fragoso powered inside to earn
two shots of her own. She made the first, Wheatley rebounded
the miss on the second and once again Thacher had the ball with
a chance to take the lead. But sophomore point guard Becky Horton
couldn't quite hit a tough runner in the lane, CVC's Sarah Keelweyn
calmly nailed two shots - her only two points of the game - and
time ran out on the Toad comeback.
The Cavaliers were led by Leslie Tos and Tessa Umbaugh with 10
points apiece. Tos scored eight of her 10 in the final period
as CVC opened its six point lead after Thacher briefly took a
one point lead on a Rauner three-point play to open the fourth.
"(Tos) had a couple of those (great games) this year,"
said Branderhorst. "This one just came at the right time.
She has the prettiest shot on our team."
Before that, the action went back and forth all night. Puccetti
had a steal and shot that would have tied it at the end of the
third but officials said she released the ball after zeroes showed
on the clock and waved off the shot.
Thacher was led by Rauner, who totaled 15 points, nine rebounds
and four blocked shots in minutes limited due to foul trouble.
She sat out most of the third period in which the two teams scored
a combined 10 points. With Rauner on the bench, Thacher struggled
to put the ball in the hoop in its half-court set.
Livermore's production was limited offensively as she faced a
player of equal size inside in CVC's Katie DeHaan. However, she
made up for it on the defensive end, where she blocked six shots.
Branderhorst credited the Toad defense with keeping his team
off-balance. "Their match-up zone, or whatever it was, really
made things tough for us," he said after the game.
Puccetti went for 10 points, seven rebounds and six steals in
her finest game of the playoffs. She credited coach Melissa Johnson
for inspiring the team to persevere through tough situations.
"My coach teaches us to never give up and always do what
we can," said Puccetti. "To make it this far is so
"We did have a great season and the girls have a lot to
be proud of," Johnson echoed. "It's an honor to be
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