By Bill Paterson
Amid fans waving a sea of green commemorative towels marking the occasion, El Camino girls basketball coach Bill Baxter celebrated his 600th win tonight when the Eagles (28-1) defeated visiting Rocklin 73-56 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II quarterfinals.
"It wasn't easy - I guess 600 shouldn't be easy," said Baxter, moments after being serenaded to chants of "Baxter, Baxter, Baxter" by a huge throng of students, parents and alumni. "But it was great to see everyone here - my college roommates, half the parents of the kids I coached and some kids I coached who are 40 years old now. You can't ask for better support."
Baxter is the section's victory leader.
"All season we wanted this for him and we wanted it for us," said Laurel Donnenwirth, who led all scorers with 26 points. "It's an awesome feeling to be a part of helping him get 600 wins."
The win moves El Camino into Wednesday's semifinals against second-seeded Del Oro at UOP.
Rocklin (18-11), a resurgent program under first-year coach Rob Ferraro, came in as the No. 6 seed and the second place finishers in the Sierra Foothill League.
The Thunder gave the Eagles all they could handle through the first two quarters in trailing 44-39 at halftime.
But El Camino went on an 11-0 run to open the third quarter and Rocklin could never cut the lead to single digits.
"It was good to coach in a stressful game and have another degree in my players come out that needed to come out," Baxter said. "Rocklin was tremendous tonight.... As you know we don't have too many close games, and we haven't in quite awhile. So basically now that we've won, it's a good thing because now we are going to be the underdog."
But there is nothing underdog about Donnenwirth, the Eagles' sturdy 5-foot-8 senior post. She was a whirlwind of dominance, grabbing rebounds, swatting shots, playing punishing defense and scoring on a variety of inside spin moves against pressure.
"For 5-8 she's ridiculous," Baxter said. "She rebounds. She scores with either hand. She'll kill herself to win. Several colleges are interested in her even though she is undersized. But she's just a beast. She's very hard to guard."
Jade Sowell Hundon added 12 points and Courtney Brignac 11 for the Eagles. Joie Camalo topped Rocklin with 12 points. Erin Dean added 11 and Alison Willie had 10.
As the game wound down to the final minutes, El Camino JV coach Cici Downing Robinson, a leader for Baxter's CIF state champion 36-0 team in 1994, passed out green towels to many in the bleachers.
The towel read in white letters "Coach Baxter, 600 wins, ECHS, 2-24-11." Baxter was presented with the towel enclosed in a glass frame.
"We've got a great group," Baxter said of his players. "All parts fit together, and it's got us to where we are. They are a fun group, but they know how to work hard and have fun. So it's made my whole year tremendous. I couldn't celebrate this with a better group of kids."