Piedmont girls basketball falls to Whitney in CIF tournament

(L-R) Lindsey Wirgler, Harper Peterson, Tylie Kitchen, Natalia Martinez, Samantha Smith and Kendall Dykstra battle during Whitney's 53-41 win over Piedmont in the CIF playoffs. (Photo by Damin Esper)

There was a moment early on when it looked like it might be Piedmont High School’s night. Natalia Martinez had two early steals and coast-to-coast layups at Whitney-Rockly, giving the Highlanders an early lead.

But it was a mirage. The Piedmont offense struggled to get going all night and the Wildcats prevailed 53-41 in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation Division 1 girls basketball tournament on Feb. 27.

The Highlanders finished the season at 20-8. Whitney advanced to face top-seeded Pinewood on Feb. 29.

Defense was the key. Both teams played it well, but the No. 8 seed Wildcats (23-9) played it better. At times, it was a bit of a slog, but Whitney got the lead in the first quarter and maintained it.

Stanford-bound senior Harper Peterson led the Wildcats with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Martinez had 16 points and nine rebounds before fouling out late. After making those first two shots, she was just 3-of-19 the rest of the way.

“It didn’t end how we wanted it to end,” Martinez said. “We played to the end, we played our butts off, and we couldn’t ask for more.”

Piedmont’s Lindsey Wirgler (15) passes as Marissa Shihadeh (3) defends during Whitney’s 53-41 win in a CIF playoff game on Feb. 27.

Martinez was the object of attention for Whitney.

“Stopping Natalia, she’s really good, that was our biggest focus, to stop her,” Peterson said. “We were trying to get the ball out of her hands and limit her to 10 or 15 points and make her teammates throw in some points too.”

Martinez was the only Highlander in double-figures. Samantha Smith had nine points and seven rebounds. Shakila Zuberi had six points and 11 rebounds, while Kat Melian had six points and seven rebounds.

Again, Piedmont struggled with a short bench. Highlanders coach Bryan Gardere played six players most of the night despite Martinez and Lindsey Wirgler getting into foul trouble.

“They had a little bit more firepower,” Gardere said. “They did a good job. They made some timely threes that felt bigger than they were. We had too many dry moments, too many empty possessions. But overall, I’m proud of the girls, I’m proud of the journey we had all year, the way they stuck together.

“Because we had a small group, we became very close.”

Whitney had a run late in the first quarter to open up a 20-11 lead. Piedmont was able to stay close, closing to 28-24 at halftime. Neither team shot well in the game – Whitney was 17 of 54 (31 percent) from the floor and the Highlanders were 13 of 48 (27 percent) from the field.

Then things fell apart in the third quarter for Piedmont. The Wildcats outscored the Highlanders, 11-3. Piedmont made just one field goal in 13 attempts. Whitney entered the fourth quarter up 39-27.

Whitney’s Harper Peterson (15) passes out of a double-team by Piedmont’s Shay Johnson (33) and Natalia Martinez (right). The Highlanders season ended with a 53-41 loss to Whitney. (Photo by Damin Esper)

But the Highlanders did not concede. The defense continued to play well, forcing a shot clock violation at one point and forcing the Wildcats to rush shots. Piedmont just couldn’t get that three-basket run going that could have truly gotten it back in the game.

And much like in their loss to Acalanes a week before in the fifth place game of the North Coast Section Open Division tournament, the Highlanders’ depth was a problem. Peterson was one of three Wildcats in double-figures. Sammy Schuler scored 13 points and Tylie Kitchen had 12 to go along with eight rebounds.

Martinez is off to San Diego State in the fall, the latest in a long line of terrific players to play for Piedmont.

“Nat is going to go down as one of the greatest players to ever play at the high school,” Gardere said. “She just did so much for the program, for the kids in the community. She goes to all the camps and clinics. She’s in the gym more than anybody. She made it cool for people to shoot at lunchtime, cool for people to shoot during sixth period.

“We’re going to miss her leadership. It’s going to be interesting trying to fill those shoes.”

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