The Rancho Cotate Cougars Girls’ basketball team crushed the Windsor Jaguars, 61-43, Sat. by taking advantage of their opponent’s inexperience.
The final score implies a lot and not all of it true. For much of the game, the Jaguars matched the Cougars point for point, despite their team’s tiny bench and youthful roster. Fully half of the Jaguars’ ten-woman lineup are freshman and in varsity those few extra years of development can count for a lot.
Nevertheless, their freshmen made a good show of it, putting their small stature to use when the Jaguars’ sole senior, Torri Russotti, snagged a rebound. The Cougars leapt to contest, but she passed it out of the paint to her waiting teammate and freshman, Meredith Gilbertson.
By this point in the game Gilbertson had already hinted that she was an agile basketball player, but the next couple seconds clinched it. Gilbertson plunged into the melee under the basket. She twisted sideways and ducked low to dribble through the space between the pressed bodies of two Cougar defenders, then popped up on the other side. The two defenders turned around, but they could only watch as Gilbertson took her shot.
But the Cougars have a freshman of their own. It’s Keyonee Neal and despite her young age she already stands a respectable 5’9, towering above even a few of the team’s seniors.
Neal entered the game in a big way when her teammate, Kierra Johnson, snatched the ball out of the hands of Torri Russotti. Russotti took off after Johnson, but Johnson wasn’t one to wait around. She passed to Neal who lurked at the mid court line.
Neal sprinted for the basket. The Jaguars martialed their entire team, but none could catch her, managing only to slap at her back as she went for a layup. It was a perfect jump. The ball left her fingers, rolled along the rim and fell into the basket.
The first half ended with the Cougars ahead by only a single point. Eventually, though, the team’s superior size and deeper bench began to take its toll. The Jaguars grew tired and sluggish, unable to match the Cougars’ constant stream of fresh substitutions.
“[Newton’s] got fourteen kids on his roster and he played them all. So they stayed fresh. We only had eight,” Jaguars’ coach, Joe Passalacqua, said. “It hurts when you don’t have the numbers. Girls get tired and when they get tired they get lazy.”
It showed when the Cougars’ Mackenna Menton-Porter intercepted a sloppy Jaguar pass. The Jaguars were slow to respond, but they managed to get down the court in time to stick two of their defenders in Porter’s way. Porter ignored them, charging the basket. She used her superior size to muscle through their hands and leapt into the air for a layup.
After that the game turned heavily in the Cougars’ favor. Their coach, Mario Newton, kept a keen eye on his team’s morale, pulling out players who showed signs of sloppy play or began to tilt.
“As a coach I want to reward the players that are playing well,” Newton said. “We were calm in the locker room. I asked them, ‘Hey, do you think we could play better than that?’ They said absolutely. They came out the second half and they were much better because they played Rancho basketball.”
The win means the Cougars remain undefeated in conference play. That’s a pretty big deal for a team whose last championship banner dates all the way back to the winter of 1980. The banner has yellowed and faded with time, but it still hangs in Rancho Cotate’s gymnasium to this day and with the new gym slated to open sometime in the spring, this year feels like the perfect year to bring home another one.
Next up for Rancho Cotate is an away game against De Anza. It’ll take place Jan. 26 and be the third to the last game of the season.