February 19, 2013
Senior leaders lift Pleasant Grove over McClatchy, 61-58

Avonna Lee and Dejza James have played basketball together since elementary school.

They have been Day One impact players at Pleasant Grove High School, which they have helped turn into an area Top 10 girls basketball program.

The close friends have combined for more than 2,600 points and innumerable highlight-reel plays during their four-year varsity careers.

So on Tuesday night, in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs at Pleasant Grove, the two Eagles captains and lone seniors weren't about to see their high school careers come to an end against an up-and-coming, underclass-dominated McClatchy team.

Lee and James were in the middle of two key plays in the final 30 seconds that enabled the eight-seeded Eagles (20-8) to rally for a 61-58 win over the No. 9 Lions (22-6).

Pleasant Grove advances to Thursday's quarterfinals against nationally ranked and top-seeded St. Mary's of Stockton, 92-24 winners over Bear Creek of Stockton.

But for a while in the final quarter, it looked as if McClatchy, playing smart, inspired an energetic under second-year coach Jessica Kunisaki, might be the team moving on to play the Rams.

Alex Washington's free throw with 46 seconds to play put McClatchy up 58-57.
Eighteen seconds later, Lee threaded a perfect pass to James, sandwiched between two defenders near the basket, who scored and was fouled.

James missed her free-throw attempt but scrambled for the loose ball, which found its way to Lee. She hit a cutting Alaina Paaga with another perfect pass for a layup with 17 seconds.

A desperation McClatchy three-point attempt for the tie from well above the key missed just before the buzzer.

"All I know is that I didn't want this to end," said Lee, who finished with a game-high 17 points despite limping noticeably from a bad back. "Me and Dejza have been playing since third grade and we know that as seniors we're expected to carry the team on our shoulders."

The Arizona-bound James, despite constant double and triple teams, finished with 13 points on 6 of 12 shooting.

"They've been playing together so long that it shows on the court," said Pleasant Grove coach James McKeever. "They've really taken charge of developing the younger girls. They're not only good basketball players, they're just great all-around kids."

Freshman Brittany Nguyen added nine points for the Eagles, all first-half three-pointers, and Paaga had three big fourth-quarter layups after replacing starting post Aaliyah Pena, who fouled out with 3:19 to play.

Impressive 6-2 freshman post Gigi Garcia led McClatchy with 17 points; senior Aleea Reese added 15 and sophomore Lauren Nubla eight points and countless hustle plays at both ends. The Lions played without leading scorer Destiney Lee, a 6-2 sophomore, sidelined with an ankle injury.

That two of the area's highly ranked teams met in the first round of the playoffs was reflective of how tough and deep the D-I playoff field is.

The two teams won a combined 43 games in the regular season and played in the section's two toughest leagues.

McClatchy was ranked No. 6 and Pleasant Grove No. 8 by The Bee. Pleasant Grove was ranked No. 10 and McClatchy No. 12 in the section by MaxPreps.com.

About the Prep blog

Bee staff writers Joe Davidson and Bill Paterson provide news, analysis and insight on the area high school sports scene in their Prep Blog. Have a question to ask them? Send them an email any time at jdavidson@sacbee.com or bpaterson@sacbee.com.

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