By Nick Giannandrea
College of the Sequoias' women's basketball team is exactly where it wanted to be all season -- playing at home for a berth in the state final eight.
And the Giants are counting on a sea of orange support to propel them to Ventura College, site for the final three rounds of the California Community College Athletic Association playoffs.
Fourth-seeded COS (27-3) will host No. 5 City College of San Francisco (23-3) on Saturday in one of four Northern California Regional finals. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
"We're glad we're playing at home," Giants coach Ray Alvarado said. "That's going to be a key for us. We fought hard all year to get a higher seed so we could play at home."
Alvarado said he hopes the community will come out in full force and pack Porter Field House (capacity ???) as they have previously during the Giants' runs to the state final eight in three of the past four seasons. All fans attending the game are encouraged to wear orange, and Giants athletic director Brent Davis said the first 300 people through the door will receive a free orange COS t-shirt. Ticket prices, as set by the CCCAA, are $12 general admission and $8 for seniors 60-and-older or children younger than 12.
"Not too many JC's can say they pack a gym for a women's basketball game," Alvarado said. "And we've been able to do that. The players really feed off that support. It's a great atmosphere."
COS enters Saturday's game winners of 10 straight, including a postseason-opening 58-41 defeat of No. 13 Solano on March 2. Sophomore guard Janelle Sumilong (Hanford High) led the way with 15 points, seven rebounds, six steals and four assists, while sophomore post player Hailey Scott (Monache) added 13 points and 10 rebounds, and sophomore guard Dejanee Gill (Rialto) contributed nine points and seven rebounds.
The Giants shot only 30 percent (21 of 70) from the field and 10.5 percent (2 of 19) from behind the 3-point line, but were bailed out by a defensive effort that created 33 Solano turnovers.
"We have to shoot better than we did the other night," Alvarado said. "We can't shoot that percentage and expect to win the ball game."
Behind 23 points and 12 rebounds from Errayana Hatfield; 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists from Vivian Woo; and 11 points and eight assists from Samantha Erisman, San Francisco advanced to its match-up against COS with an 86-74 home victory over No. 12 Fresno City, the Giants' Central Valley Conference rival. Comparatively, COS beat Fresno City by scores of 89-70 on the road and 75-62 at home.
Erisman, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard, has been San Francisco's driving force offensively, averaging 22.1 points and 6.5 assists a game. Hatfield, a 5-11 freshman forward, heads up an imposing inside game by contributing 21.5 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. San Francisco's inside attack also features Ma'ata Makoni, a 5-9 sophomore forward who averages 10.4 points and 6.6 rebounds, and 5-8 freshman forward Woo (9.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg).
"It's going to be a tough game," Alvarado said. "I expect it to go down to the last 4 minutes of the ball game.
"They do like to get the ball inside. That will be a big challenge for our post players. But Hailey has been doing a great job for us."
Saturday's game sets up to be a classic clash of outstanding offensive and bullish defensive teams.
San Francisco enters averaging 82.4 points a game, fifth-best in the state. The Rams shoot a state third-best 44.6 percent from the field.
COS, meanwhile, yields the fewest points (49.5) and allows the lowest field goal percentage (30.0) of any team in the state.
"There really aren't any secrets on our end," said Alvarado, who has led COS into the postseason for the seventh straight season. "We have to play defensively like we know how to play. We're a top-five defensive team in the state, and we'll need to play like it Saturday."
Offensively, the Giants have been led by sophomore guard Shae Sanchez (a Riverside product who averages 14.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game), Sumilong (13.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.8 apg), Scott (9.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and Gill (8.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.3 apg).
The winner advances to the state quarterfinals, set for March 15. Games are scheduled for 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. The semifinals are at 5 and 7 p.m. on March 16, and the final is at 3:30 p.m. March 17.
The Giants were eliminated in the state quarterfinals last season following a 65-46 loss to eventual champion Mt. San Jacinto.
COS' only state women's basketball title came in 1987, when the Tom Gilcrest-coached Giants went 35-0.