After trailing 19-10 after the first quarter and falling behind three different times by 11 times in the second quarter, the Bonita varsity girls finally got their groove on to pull away late from the Mira Costa Mustangs and claim a gritty, hard-fought 52-47 victory on their home court on Wednesday night.
At the center of Bonita’s determined comeback was junior sensation Nikki Wheatley who poured in 29 points, including 16 in the second half. Down the stretch, she also got key buckets from teammates Annika Santos and Erin Hastings.
In the first quarter, Bonita head coach Darren Baumunk had to do everything he could to keep from planning his summer vacation because his lady Bearcats didn’t appear to be in the game.
“Mira Costa had the extra step on us in the first half,” he said. “They were much faster and much more aggressive than us. We worked on all the pressure all week during practice, but for some reason, we just fell asleep.”
After a 5-5 tie, Mira Costa went on a 10-0 to extend their margin to 15-5. Meanwhile, Bonita was turning the ball over and missing free throws and point-blank layups. Mira Costa extended their lead to 29-18 before Bonita cut the margin to 29-22 at the half on two Wheatley baskets, one coming on a beautiful in-bounds play under the basket, the other on a mid-range jumper in the key a la The NBA Thunder’s Russell Westbrook.
At the start of the second half, Wheatley took her play up another notch, racing up and down the court like Usain Bolt, which triggered a 9-2 Bonita run that allowed the Bearcats to catch Mira Costa at 31-31. Wheatley led the scoring burst with six points. The tying basket came on a three-pointer by Santos.
“Annika hit some key shots for us,” Baumunk said, “and she has not played a lot lately.”
As for Wheatley, she had had one foot on the accelerator and the other on the throats of the Mustangs. She went into Kobe mode, looking to score or set up her teammates for easy scoring opportunities.
“Some of the plays I knew I had to take myself and get the basket,” she said moments after the game, “and other plays when they started collapsing, I was able to pass it to the open player.”
Helping propel the comeback was the Bonita home crowd at her back.
“All the fans, all the noise, having the game on our home floor was really exciting,” Wheatley said.
Bonita and Mira Costa finished the third quarter, tied 37-37, putting everyone in the new Bonita gym on the edge of their seats.
Wheatly broke the tie, 39-37, on a fast-break layup and then extended the lead to 41-37 on a short-range jumper Cassie Martinez pushed the lead to 43-37 with a bucket. After Camille Mills scored for Mira Costa, Hastings answered with a deuce of her own to help Bonita maintain its six-point cushion. After a pair of free throws by Mills, it was Hastings again scoring on an assist from Wheatley to make the score 47-41. A runner in the lane by Mira Costa’s Keilani Ikehara cut Bonita’s advantage to 47-43 with 35 seconds remaining.
It appeared the Mustangs had one last surge in them but that hope was dashed when Santos rattled home a three-pointer to put Bonita up 50-43.
That was the dagger. That was the bomb that allowed Baumunk to postpone his vacation plans.
“That’s a good team we just played,” Baumunk said sounding relieved. “They’ve got some players over there, but our girls stuck with it and understood it’s four quarters of basketball.”
Leading Mira Costa were Shaylyn Austin with 16 points, Mills with 14 and Ikehara with 9 points.
Now Baumunk and the Bonita girls will get to play at least four more quarters on Saturday, turning what seemed like a rebuilding year into a resurgent year.
“We’re in a much higher division than we have been in the last three or four years I’ve been here,” Baumunk said, “and we rose to the occasion.”
Rising the highest has been Wheatley.
“With this team, we have to work harder and be more scrappy, rather than just relying on easy baskets, but were getting the results,” Wheatley said.
“I think this team can take it really far.”