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Pride playoff battle falls short after capturing CCAL crown
Girls win first-ever playoff game before season-ending loss
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Aleyah Higa scores for the Pride during the playoff game against Stagg on Wednesday. Pitman won 49-45 (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

If there’s one word to describe this season’s Pitman High varsity girls basketball team, it’s resilient. 

After starting the season with a 2-8 record, the Pride roared back to finish 14-13 overall with a 9-1 record in Central California Athletic League play — good enough for first place and their second CCAL championship in the last two full seasons played. The success came as Pitman started just two out of 27 games with its full roster thanks to COVID issues and injuries, like when senior captain Abbie DiGrazia went out with a knee injury just five games into league play. 

“The fact that we were able to persevere through all of that, to me, it was the most impressive thing that I've seen as a coach of this program…We've had groups that could do some special things, but nothing like the perseverance and the difficulties this group had to go through and they still found a way to win league,” Pitman head coach Dustin Curtiss said. “It shows a lot about their character when things aren't going their way to find a way to still get it done.” 

The team’s resilience paid off and gave the Pride a chance to win their first-ever playoff game Wednesday night. While they had advanced in the playoffs before, Curtiss explained, that time was due to a forfeit. This postseason, the girls were able to earn their first playoff win by defeating Stagg High 49-45.

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Pitman's Maddyn Hamasaki keeps her Stagg opponent away from the ball (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

“It was a huge win. To get any playoff victory is huge…This was our first ‘official’ win in a playoff game, which is huge for our program,” Curtiss said. “It was really good to get that taken care of.”

Pitman entered the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff tournament as the No. 16 seed and played Stagg in a play-in game to get to the first round against Oak Ridge Thursday night.

After a close first period against the Delta Kings Wednesday night which saw the Pride trail by three points, 16-13, Pitman exploded for 20 points in the second period to lead 26-33 by halftime. They outscored Stagg by just two points in the game’s third period to hold onto a 35-44 lead, but several key fouls in the final period allowed the Pride to secure the win and advance.

“You could tell they were a little tight when it started. We weren’t doing a lot of smart things and making some mental mistakes. As we relaxed after the first quarter ended, we got back into what we do best,” Curtiss said. “Sometimes the moment gets a little too big for people, which is natural, but the fact that we were able to calm down pretty quickly and settle into that second and third quarter was a big deal for us.”

Pitman’s successful scoring effort was led by the team’s other senior captain Aleyah Higa, who finished the night with 21 points. Sophomore Simran Garcha followed with 11 points, and senior Sofie Goldsmith had two three-pointers on the night. 

Despite the following night’s 70-13 loss to Oak Ridge, Curtiss couldn’t be prouder of his team. They put up a fight against the No. 10-ranked school in California on Thursday and have plenty to look forward to next season. Despite key seniors like DiGrazia, Higa, Goldsmith and more graduating — five in total — important pieces will remain, such as Garcha and junior point guard Maddyn Hamasaki, also a captain. Additionally, the school’s junior varsity team went undefeated in league play this season.

“We're losing some great players, but there are still some pieces there from the varsity team and then quite a few pieces from the JV team that are going to be really competitive again next year,” Curtiss said. “It's going to be interesting to watch how they develop, but there are a lot of pieces still in the program to have another successful year.”