OAKLAND – Piedmont had two of its starters foul out, gave up 11 three-pointers, and were consistently harassed into turnovers and rushed shots by a frenetic Salesian team that boasts victories over fantastic teams like Sacred Heart Cathedral and Oakland Tech.
The Highlanders, ranked No. 1 in the Bay Area News Group rankings, justified their top spot by pushing past those difficulties in a 69-63 win at Bishop O’Dowd’s Martin Luther King Jr. Classic on Monday afternoon.
In the process, Piedmont looked every bit like a team that can compete in the Open Division, the highest level of the state playoffs.
“They should be in there,” Salesian coach Stephen Pezzola said. “They beat Mitty, and they beat us, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t be in the Open Division.”
Salesian’s senior shooting guard Makiah Asidanya nailed five three-pointers as part of a game-high 25-point night. A 21-point second quarter by the Pride (15-3) ended with a 33-30 lead at halftime.
After its opponent built its advantage using long-range marksmanship, Piedmont came back by utilizing a much different strategy.
Eva Levingston powered in 10 of her team-high 21 points in the third quarter before joining starting point guard Perseas Gioukaris on the Piedmont bench with five fouls midway through the fourth.
Those baskets, mostly scored on flip shots and layups, turned a three-point Salesian halftime lead into a 53-43 Piedmont advantage heading into the final quarter. The Highlander defense also made a crucial adjustment.
“We had to start locking in on their shooters too, because they were getting a lot of threes they shouldn’t have,” Piedmont forward and San Diego State commit Trinity Zamora said.
Zamora also took on more ballhandling duties while scoring 18, Natalia Martinez notched 13 points and guard Madison Hill spaced the floor by hitting three 3-pointers. Two of Piedmont’s second-string players also impressed when pressed into action.
“Kat Melian started last year for us, so I knew she’d be ready,” Piedmont coach Bryan Gardere said. “Shakila Zuberi came in and did the same thing. It was awesome to see.”
Salesian kept the game close throughout the fourth, but the Highlanders hit their free throws and salted away the victory.
Now owning wins over No. 2 Mitty and No. 3 Salesian, Piedmont (15-0) continues to build an impeccable resume. Gardere believes those tough wins should serve Piedmont well in March.
“We didn’t play particularly great today, but I’m glad we figured it out,” Gardere said. “We need to play games like this to figure out what we need to prepare for.”
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