A game for the ages unfolded inside Haynes-Prim Pavilion tonight, as the right to hoist the 2011-12 California Pacific Conference crown was on the line. The back story leading up to the game was almost too good to be true. It had been five years since the Lady Oaks won the conference championship, with Holy Names winning it each and every year during that time period. If Menlo wanted the title, they would have to steal it from their arch rival…on senior night.
A comeback of monumental proportions saw the Lady Oaks erase an 11-point deficit inside of eight minutes to claim their first Cal Pac title since the 2006-07 season, taking it home by a final of 75-69.
Freshman Jolise Limcaco played the role of hero, scoring a game high 26 points, 20 in the second half, including a stretch that saw the native of Sacramento score 17 of Menlo's 20 points to turn an 11-point hole into a knotted up game with just over three minutes left.
HNU's Sarah Kilewer had just put in a second chance bucket to give the Hawks an 11-point advantage with a tad over eight minutes to go. Holy Names looked prime to take their 5th straight conference title, leading 58-47, but Limcaco had other ideas. On the ensuing possession after a Bryanna Batts missed three pointer, Menlo picked up the offensive board and Limcaco stepped beyond the arc, and stroked a deep trey to cut the deficit to eight.
Then after a Hawks miss on the opposite end, Limcaco found herself on a fast break, hit the layup and was fouled in the process to give herself a chance to convert a three-point play with 7:22 remaining. The freshman guard sunk the free throw to cut the Hawks lead to five.
On the next HNU possession, the Oaks forced a turnover and once again it was Limcaco who made the Hawks pay. A three pointer from the top of the key made it a 58-56 affair with 6:45 left. Limcaco had just scored nine straight points to make it a brand new ball game. The atmosphere was chilling.
Credit Holy Names who immediately responded with a Soulijah Evans bucket on the following possession to give the Hawks a 60-56 advantage with 6:30 to go. A free throw by Menlo's Laurel Donnenwirth, who ended the evening with 12 points and 12 rebounds for her fourth conference double-double of the year, made it a three point contest with 6:23 left. The Hawks found a way to build their advantage back up to six with a Brttany Potestio three ball to take a 63-57 advantage with 6:11 left.
Menlo came right back with four straight from Limcaco to cut the deficit to 63-61 with just over five minutes remaining. The teams would go on to trade buckets, until two Limcaco free throws deadlocked the score at 67-67 with 3:11 to go in the unbelievable contest.
Lauren Adamek gave Menlo their first lead of the second half with two free throws at the 2:27 mark, but HNU's Soulijah Evans squared the game away at 69-69 moments later.
Now under a minute, Oaks senior Erika Garcia, playing in her final regular season game of her storied Menlo career, missed shot under the basket but found a way to force a jump ball situation to give the Oaks a second chance. This time Garcia came up big, knocking down a shot from inside the key with only 54 seconds left to give Menlo a 71-69 lead. The Lady Oaks never looked back.
Garcia finished her night with nine points and Lauren Adamek had an outstanding performance with 13 points and nine boards, but after the championship bout all the talk was about the freshman Limcaco.
"She's a warrior," claimed Menlo Head Coach Shannon Osborne on Limcaco's unbelievable showing. "Jolise never stopped fighting tonight and single handedly broke HNU's press in the second half. She was just huge for us."
On the prospects of winning her first title since taking over the reins four years ago, Osborne was more than enthusiastic. "It feels great," remarked the fourth year head coach. "We worked really hard the last four years and to come out on top like this is just amazing."