LAYUP Allie Espinoza (10) goes for two during the second half of the Feb. 1 game against St. Vincent, as Hailey Webb (22) and Ashley Behrens (14) stand by. (Photo by Michael Lucid)

The Healdsburg High girls basketball team ended the regular 2023-24 season on a high note—a 15-game winning streak, capped by a 12-0 sweep of the other teams in the North Bay Redwood league.

But now the going gets tough: a two-game championship series began on Tuesday of this week with a rematch against Santa Rosa, the league’s fourth place finisher. That same night, Windsor (second place) will face Rancho Cotate (third place) for the chance to meet for the final game on Saturday to determine the league championship, and the right to pin the pennant on the gymnasium wall.

Last year, the 11-1 Greyhounds won both playoff games, against Santa Rosa and then against Windsor, to claim the pennant. This year, despite their 12-0 league record, coach Jim Lago made it clear: “We never underestimate anyone, especially towards the end of the season.”

BEYOND THE PAINT Ruby Leffew tries for three during the first half of the Feb. 1 game against St. Vincent. (Photo by Michael Lucid)

Healdsburg played their final two regular season games last week, the first on Feb. 1 against St. Vincent de Paul, which ended up last in the standings without having won a game. Despite the coach’s caution, the outcome wasn’t in doubt from the first five seconds: Hailey Webb got the tip, sprinted downfield and passed to Ruby Leffew, who sank a 3-pointer before five seconds had elapsed.

The Lady Greyhounds showed their usual shooting skills, taking the first quarter 17-7 and building to a comfortable 32-8 at the half. The final score was 59-19.

True to form, senior Webb led scoring that night with 22 points, including a game-high six 3-pointers. She was followed by Leffew, with 14, and both Allie Espinoza and Claire Berry, with 13 each.

Two nights later the final game of the schedule was played at Piner High, and it proved to be a more challenging contest. Piner came out strong and played aggressively, keeping the score tied 14-14 at the first quarter.

“I was never really worried because I know this team, and they never ever give up,” Lago said. “So as usual, we settled down, made a fourth quarter defensive adjustment and went 17 to 5 in the final minutes for the win.”

When the buzzer rang, the score was 54-41, giving the Greyhounds their first undefeated league schedule since 2004.

Of the coming playoffs, Lago was his usual confident, cautious self. “This is varsity basketball and everyone can play, and everyone can coach and everyone wants to be a spoiler,” he said.

“Everyone is gunning for us, and I don’t blame them,” he added. “We will see if we have enough in our tanks to beat them a third (and fourth) time in one season. That is a very hard thing to do, but we are going to do our best.”

UPDATE: Tuesday night, in the first game of the championship playoff, Healdsburg defeated Santa Rosa—for the fourth time this season—by a score of 43-30. Final game in the series is Saturday, Feb. 10, against Rancho Cotate.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2012, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before finding himself at home with the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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