TWO MORE Healdsburg's leading scorer, Hailey Webb (22), goes up for 2 against Rancho Cotate on Feb. 10. The Greyhounds won the league title in the game, 46-34.

The North Bay Redwood schedule for 2023-24 came to an end on Saturday night with two playoff games at Rancho Cotate’s impressive TAG Auditorium, the Theater, Academic and Gymnasium building on the Rohnert Park campus.

Usually playoff games are played at the higher-seeded team’s court, but the North Coast Section (NCS) decided to hold both boys’ and girls’ finals for the league at a single location, the roomy new gym with its bleacher seating for 2,500.

SINGLE DRIBBLER Ruby Leffew takes it down the court against Rancho Cotate on Feb.10. The Healdsburg Lady Greyhounds won it for the league title,

Many were showing up that night to watch the boys’ final between thus-far 12-0 Ukiah against 5-3 St. Vincent de Paul. The determined Petaluma team sprang a surprise 60-48 defeat on the visiting Wildcats to take the boys’ title. But Healdsburg fans came early to watch the Lady Greyhounds put a cap on their season and claim a second straight championship year.

Healdsburg swept regular season play against all its opponents, beating each one twice for a 12-0 record. But the NCS protocol is for a two-game playoff to award the pennant, giving even the fourth-place finisher in the seven-team league a chance for the title.

They need not have bothered. Healdsburg handed fourth-seeded Santa Rosa a 43-30 loss on Feb. 7, while Rancho defeated second-ranked Windsor that same night for the right to play the Feb. 10 game against Healdsburg.

The big hall was nowhere near full when the girls’ game started at 6pm, but cheers from both visiting Healdsburg fans and local Rancho Cotate supporters echoed throughout from the opening tip-off. The RC Cougars, who had an 8-4 league record, came out ready to rumble, using their weight against the more lithe Greyhounds to force turnovers and grab rebounds, and the lead changed frequently throughout the first half.

Speed and Shooting

Once again, it was Healdsburg’s superior shooting skills that made the difference, that and their on-court speed. With Coach Jim Lago shouting, “Sprint! Sprint! You gotta be quick!” from the sidelines, the Greyhounds lived up to their reputation and kept a fast pace throughout that eventually wore down the Cougars.

Despite the closeness of the game, the Greyhounds only managed to stay ahead by a 3-point score by Hailey Webb at the buzzer to end the first quarter 11-9, and two quick 2-pointers by Claire Berry to give them a 19-18 lead at the half.

Rancho Cotate could never score more than 9 points in a quarter. But as the game progressed, Healdsburg’s point total slowly climbed, with 12 in the third and 15 points in the final quarter to win going away, 46-34.

BENCH ACTION Back-up players and coaches react to a hard-won basket during the February game with Rancho Cotate; assistant coach Greg Marguglio is at left.

Only one player on the court scored into double-digits, and to no one’s surprise it was point guard Webb. She added to her stats with 22 on the night including six 3-pointers, double what Rancho shot as a team. 

As the game progressed, in fact, the increasingly frustrated Cougars attempted more and more threes in an effort to build points, nearly all of them missing.

“We had a lot of respect for Rancho; they’re awesome,” said Lago immediately following the game. “They came out with extreme defense, full-blown pressure—we’re very used to that; it’s how we started our season, and everybody’s doing it back to us. But again, the team seems to manage our game better in the second half, and we did what we usually do.”

In the end, the Lady Greyhounds triumphed by a comfortable 12-point margin, giving them the right to hang that pennant in the Smith Robinson gym for the second year in a row.

Division Tournament 

4TH QUARTER Ashley Behrens (14) takes a shot in the final quarter against Rancho Cotate (in white) to build on the late lead for the Greyhounds.

With the regular season over, the top 16 teams in the region advance to a division elimination tournament. Healdsburg is ranked sixth in Division 4, based on school size, and played 11th-ranked Middletown on Wednesday, Feb. 14. The game was held on the Healdsburg campus, as the team returned to the home court for what may have been the last time this season.

“Our preparation is no different than any other game, although because this is single elimination, we are very focused,” said Lago this week. “We watch film, determine our opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, and practice drills and/or fundamentals that will be specific to what we may experience in the game.”

The game was hard-fought, and close: the Greyhounds prevailed by a narrow two points, 36-34.

Healdsburg’s next opponent will be Justin-Siena (#3 seed), the winner of their Feb. 14 game against Lower Lake (#14). The game will be played at the Napa school (4026 Maher St, Napa) at 5:30pm.

Last year, when the Greyhounds took the North Bay Redwood title, they lost in the first round of the divisional playoffs. Already they are playing deeper into the playoffs.

“We have and continue to enjoy our season and each other, so we want to keep it going as long as we can,” said Lago. 

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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 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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