By Meyer Gorelick
The City College women’s basketball team went toe-to-toe with the #2 ranked team in Northern California, Diablo Valley College Vikings on Saturday, March 7, and nearly pulled off an upset to advance to the state finals.
The Rams traveled well, and although it was an away game, City College fans at least equaled the number of Vikings supporters in the bleachers.
Each quarter told a different story and the game swung back and forth wildly throughout the night. After a tense first few minutes, the Vikings went on a run and closed the opening frame up 24-17. A buzzer-beating three-pointer from sophomore forward Katie Osaki kept the Rams within striking distance though.
The Rams took control in the second quarter, taking the lead about halfway through thanks to game-changing blocks from freshman center Becca Tasi, a barrage of buckets from sophomore leaders and first-team all-conference performers Jayden Benitez and Vivian Woo and two timely baskets from freshman guard Francesca Cornell.
But the Vikings weathered the storm as first-team all-state forward Nia Johnson kept her team in the game via relentless attacks on the basket. The first half ended in a deadlock, 33-33.
The third quarter was just as tight and intense. It was like seeing two heavy-weight boxers trading blows and refusing to go down.
The Rams’ star forward and co-conference player of the year Errayanna Hatfield broke her nose early in the second half. With the season on the line, she courageously checked back into the game after spending a few minutes on the trainers table.
Despite missing Hatfield, the Rams built a small lead thanks to Benitez’s outstanding play. She was getting it done in the paint, finishing and-one layups while also splashing shots from deep. But the Vikings again clawed their way back, and finished the third quarter up 54-52.
Turnovers and red hot three-point shooting from the Vikings in the final quarter proved too much for the Rams to overcome. Diablo Valley’s aggressive pressing defense forced the Rams into too many give-aways which were turned into decisive points on the other end.
It was a frantic final five minutes, during which the Rams, down double-digits, left everything out on the floor in an effort to come back, but in the end the deficit was insurmountable. The game ended 77-63 in favor of the Vikings.
“We played with energy for 40 minutes,” Head Coach Derek Lau said. “Unfortunately the balls and the calls weren’t falling our way a few times here and there.”
“I thought we fought till the end,” said Benitez who finished with a team-high 16 points. “DVC is a good team, but it was just a good fight, good game overall.”
“They deserved the win tonight,” she added about the Vikings.
What a Team, What a Season
It was clear that all the love the team and its coach expressed for each other after the game were heartfelt and not just lip service. There were lots of moist eyes heading to the locker room after coming devastatingly close to advancing to the state finals.
“It was a fantastic season,” Head Coach Derek Lau said. “They were focused, locked in all season long.”
“I had a great time with this group, this is a phenomenal group, I’m going to miss this group tremendously,” he added.
Woo shared Lau’s appreciation of how special this team was.
“They’re real ones,” said Woo. “We ride or die together all day long. This journey would’ve been, we wouldn’t have gotten this far without them.”
Benitez acknowledged that it was going to be hard to let go.
“It was a family,” said Benitez. “One of the tightest bonds I’ve ever had with a team.”
“I’m heartbroken honestly,” she added. “I’m gonna miss everybody.”
Woo and Benitez are both trying to play at the next level, with Benitez in talks with San Francisco State University and Cal State University of Los Angeles.