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Comeback falls short as Pitman girls’ hoops falls to Gregori in CCAL opener
Pitman girls bball
Pitman High junior Liz Webb led all Pride players with 10 points in their 58-40 loss to Gregori High on Tuesday night (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

“It’s hard to come back and have a chance to win when we dig ourselves that deep of holes.”

Those were the words of Pitman High head coach Parmine Randhawa as she stood on the court following the Pride’s 58-40 loss to the Jaguars of Gregori High. And frankly, it’s been a feeling she has become all too familiar with.

The Pride entered Tuesday night’s Central California Athletic League matchup with a dismal 1-11 record, making a repeat of a league title seem like an insurmountable challenge for them on paper. But when watching the games, it is clear that the record is far from a reflection of their potential.

The Pride came out the gates swinging as they forced three turnovers from the Jaguars – a team that Randhawa and Pitman High Athletic Director Dustin Curtiss believe are contenders to win CCAL this season. The hustle and gritty defense helped the Pride jump out to a 13-8 lead halfway through the first quarter, but a simple adjustment from the Jags would change the course of the game.

Facing the early deficit, Gregori head coach Marissa Shull took all five of her starters out of the game and transitioned to from man-to-man defense to an extended 2-3 press, trapping the Pitman ballhandlers each time they would come near halfcourt. The momentum instantly swung to Gregori, who finished the quarter on a 10-1 run for an 18-14 lead heading into the second.

“We struggled because we weren’t making our reads,” Rhandawa said. “I thought that whenever a team would do something like that to us, we would be ready because we practice facing that type of defense all the time and we do pretty well, but I guess I was wrong.”

It continued to be more of the same in quarters two and three, as the Jaguars extended their lead to 26-28 heading into the final frame. But it was more than just aggressive defense that helped the Jaguars as they finished with nine offensive rebounds, almost all turning into second-chance points.

Coming into the season, Randhawa knew that her team would experience some struggles as attempt to fill the gaps at the center and power forward positions left by graduating seniors and preseason injuries. Regardless, she believes that the lack of size should not be an excuse.

“As we all know, we’re very undersized, but just because we’re smaller doesn’t mean we can give up that many offensive rebounds. When we can’t get rebounds, that just means we need to do a better job at getting bodies and boxing out,” she said.

The Jaguars were led by seniors Sara Davis and Sofia Heutmaker. Davis led all scorers with 13 points while Heutmaker crashed the boards all night with five rebounds and two blocks.

The Pride did not go down without a fight, though, as shooting from junior Liz Webb, freshman Dailynn Greener and senior Maddyn Hamasaki cut the deficit to 10 with four minutes left to play in the game. But as Randhawa said, the initial 18-point deficit was just too much.

“Gregori is one of the better teams this season and I really thought we outplayed them in that fourth quarter, but it was that second quarter and third quarter that really just killed us,” she said. “It’s weird because sometimes we have a hard time starting out and coming out with energy, but we do great for the rest of the game. Other times we start out great like we did tonight, and those middle quarters kill us or we come out flat out of halftime. Once we finally play all four quarters of good and smart basketball, we can make some noise. I tell them every day how much confidence I have in them.”

The Pride’s CCAL title defense will look to get back on track on when they take on the Panthers of Modesto High on Thursday night at the Pitman High gymnasium. The Panthers have a 6-5 overall record and are also coming off of a loss to Turlock High by a score of 54-23, making Thursday’s matchup that much more important in CCAL standings.