Things got off to a good start for Peninsula's girls basketball team in the CIF State Division III regional championship game against Paloma Valley on Tuesday night, but they went south quickly.
Peninsula freshman Jadyn Lee scored the game's first five points and Peninsula led by four after the opening quarter but she scored just two points in the second half before falling 60-48.
Lee didn't shy away from how things went in the second quarter for the Panthers.
"I wasn't really looking to dish the ball, and our shots weren't falling," Lee said.
That wasn't the Panthers lone problem in the second.
Peninsula's inability to keep Paloma Valley (34-3) off the offensive glass created fits for the Panthers, helping the Wildcats maintain possession.
"They were getting a lot of offensive rebounds, and personally, it was frustrating," Lee said. "Its tough having to play back every time, and (Paloma Valley) played scrappy."
Peninsula (25-10) also turned the ball over four times in the second.
"We're a young team, and when a couple of our shots didn't fall, things started to spiral," Peninsula coach Natalie Kelly said. "That definitely got in our heads, and it took us a while (to come back)."
Paloma Valley's Syndey Woodley tied the game at 16 after hitting a pair of free throws with 3:57 to play. The Wildcats closed the half on an 11-0 run, capped off by Trinitee Bradley's 3-pointer at the buzzer that made it a 27-16 game.
The Wildcats didn't let up on the accelerator in the third, taking a 15-point lead on another Bradley 3-pointer before going into the fourth leading 46-24.
Despite its deficit, Peninsula continued to fight.
The Panthers opened the fourth on a quick 5-0 run, including a pair of Lee layups, and made it a 49-37 game following Lee's 3-pointer with 4:08 to play. Lee finished with 18 points, including 10 in the fourth.
Junior Mia Yamada noted the Panthers home crowd, and its student section, the Zoo, were vital to helping keep its level of play up late in the game. Yamada finished with six points and two steals. Eliana Hall had 14 rebounds, four points and two blocks for Peninsula.
"The crowd helped fuel us, and we got a lot of support from each other," Yamada said. "We knew it was a 'now-or-never' situation, and our coaches told us to leave it all on the floor."
"I've never played in an atmosphere like this," Lee said.
Veronica Rojas' 3-pointer with just over 3 minutes to play pulled Peninsula within 10, and following a steal and a layup, Rojas hit one of two free throws to make it a 51-43 game. Rojas finished with seven points, all in the fourth quarter.
Lee hit a layup with 1:25 to play to cut the Panthers deficit to 7, but Paloma Valley hit its free throws down the stretch. The Wildcats went 22 for 27 from the free throw line on the night, while Peninsula went 9 for 20.
"Unfortunately for us, we didn't hit our free throws," Kelly said. "If we do, we're still in the game. That, and missing layups killed us. Paloma Valley is a phenomenal team, and we didn't play our best game. But we competed."
Tuesday marked the first time since 1999 that Peninsula not only won the Bay League title, but also advanced to the regional final.
"We've grown so much as a group, and I'm proud of everyone on this team for their contributions," Yamada said. "For us to come this far is huge."
Peninsula's roster looks to be formidable in the near future. The Panthers lose two players off this years team: Rojas and Jackie Tran, while they return Lee, Hall, Au, Yamada and Jami Galdones.
"I loved coaching this team, and I told them I was very proud of them," Kelly said. "I told them to keep their heads up."