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Girls Basketball: St. Joseph on Brink of History

The senior laden Pilots, who will tangle with Pinewood Saturday afternoon, are just one win away from making the state title game.

On any level of competitive athletics, future projections of program success rarely go exactly as planned.

For the girls basketball team, however, you could say that things are right on track.

Four years after coach Julianne Berry welcomed a green but very talented freshman class, the Pilots now find themselves just one step away from capping off a tremendous season with an historic accomplishment.

The girls basketball program at St. Joseph has never been to the state title game, but with a win over Pinewood in the Northern California Division V finals Saturday afternoon, all that will change.

"They know," Berry said. "They know. From the moment (the players) got to this school, they understood the commitment it would take to be a part of this program."

Of course, part of that projection four years ago was an eventual championship run. And while St. Joseph is so close to that goal that it can almost touch it, the Pilots still have one major hurdle to jump over.

"Making it to state would be fantastic," said senior post Carmen Lockhart. "Especially since this my last year, Mo's last year, Ashlee's last year, it would mean a lot."

FRESHMEN NO MORE: It wasn't hard to see the talent that Lockhart, Monina Cuyugan and Ashlee Wood possessed when they joined the program. Even as a freshman, the 6-foot-4 Lockhart was an imposing physical presence down in the post.

Meanwhile, Wood (who also plays in the post) and Cuyugan (a point guard) both quickly became key contributors as well.

Their run wasn't always smooth, however, as evidenced by St. Joseph's rugged 11-14 season under Berry during the 2007-08 campaign.

Slowly but surely, though, the freshmen improved.

The very next year, the Pilots finished 21-8 and performed very well in the always tough Bay Shore Athletic League.

The year after that, 2009-2010, St. Joseph rolled to a 24-7 record, which culminated in a heartbreaking loss in the NorCal semi-finals to Pinewood, the same team the Pilots will see come Saturday.

Those past three seasons, which included blowout wins and hard-nosed battles, tough losses and bumps and bruises, all set up the success of this current season.

"It's clear that they've played with each other for a long time," said Berry. "There's a lot more familiarity."

St. Joseph (24-4) is in the midst of a possible banner year and the experience that Lockhart, Cuyugan and Wood garnered has helped lead the charge.

"Going into every game this year has been exciting," said Wood, who is one of the better rebounders in the Bay Area. "I'm really looking forward to Saturday and what might happen. It would be really special (to make the state title game) because we will make history for the women here at St. Joe's."

CALM CONFIDENCE: With the pressure of winning always just around the corner, the Pilots have been able to stay loose this season, despite the high expectations. A big reason for that, according to many of the players, have been the various team functions that the up-and-coming Berry has organized for the players.

From trip out to Boomers to a simple night out bowling, the St. Joseph players truly display a liking towards each other both on and off the court.

"I love how much we bonded this year," Cuyugan said. "That really helped create the chemistry we have now."

There's no doubt that the Pilots are going to need that chemistry come Saturday afternoon, as they face-off against a Pinewood team that comes into the game holding a 26-5 record and was dubbed the No.-1 seed by the selection committee at the beginning of the state tournament.

Despite the daunting task in front of them, the Pilots are confident heading into Saturday's matchup.

And with good reason.

St. Joseph knocked off a fair share of quality teams this season as well, including an impressive 53-48 victory over on January 19.

"We played (Pinewood) last year and I remember that they are really good shooters from the outside," said Lockhart, who scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in that Salesian game. "We're more confident now. We've had very good team work (this season), which is why we've made it this far."

MOMENTUM BUILDING: How do you know you have a championship caliber team? When you can win on the road.

That's exactly what the Pilots did last week.

As the No. 3-seed in the Division V bracket, St. Joseph had to travel down to Palo Alto to face traditional power Eastside Prep in its home gym.

The task was a big one and the challenge was even bigger, but in the end, the Pilots returned home with a 45-40 victory over Eastside Prep to advance to the NorCal final.

The star of the game wasn't Lockart, Cuyugan or Wood. It was actually sophomore guard Desiree Harris, who scored a team-high 18 points.

The emergence of Harris, especially lately, has added yet another weapon to an already talented squad. With so much attention focused on Lockhart and Wood down in the post, the young Harris, along with seniors Cuyugan and Jessica de Mesa, have really made teams pay in the postseason.

"It showed us again that it takes more than one player to win a game," said Cuyugan. "That's one of the great things about us. We love to pass the ball around and everyone usually scores equally."

"We came out and played hard," added Wood. "I think we wanted it a little bit more than Eastside Prep did. If we work together, we can shut any team down. It really gives us confidence because if we can do that to Eastside Prep, we can do that to Pinewood."

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LOOKING AHEAD:

NorCal Division V Finals: St. Joseph vs. Pinewood

Where: Folsom High School

When: Saturday, March 19 at 1 p.m.

What's at stake? The chance to make history and become the first ever girls basketball team at St. Joseph to make the state title game. A victory will also avenge the 64-46 loss at the hands of Pinewood last year in the state playoffs.

The Quote: "(Pinewood) is a very good program. Well-coached team. Doc (Scheppler) does a great job developing their players. They all have very good basketball IQ. They don't have much size. Their strengths are their guards and they are all experienced." -- Coach Julianne Berry.

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