MENDOTA – Gabby Sandoval hit the 3-pointer from the corner on one end of the gym that kicked the Sterling offense into high gear in the second quarter.
She hit her second 3 on Wednesday early in the third quarter from the opposite corner of the gym to put the dagger in the Dixon Duchesses’ season at the 3A Mendota Regional.
The Golden Warriors won the semifinal game 50-27 to advance to Friday’s championship game, where they will meet top-seeded Mendota (21-3)
“We haven’t seen Mendota, and neither has any of the teams we’ve played,” Sterling coach Julie Schroeder said. “All we know is that they are very long, and that they have five very good players.”
Against the Duchesses (17-12), the game plan was to make life tough for senior Brooke Bailey. Drawing that duty was primarily Sandoval, but she did have plenty of help from her teammates.
Sandoval and company held Bailey to 1-for 13 shooting.
“It has a lot more to do with my teammates helping me out,” Sandoval said. “She’s a great player, and it was them that helped me. I just tried to keep up with her.”
“You have to give a lot of credit to Gabby Sandoval,” Schroeder said. “She does as good a job defensively on Brooke as anyone. There was always a hand in her face.”
Bailey finished with 12 points. The Truman State-bound senior led Dixon to its best season in a decade.
“I can’t say enough about what kind of leader she’s been,” Dixon coach Luke Ravlin said. “You saw it tonight. She never quits competing, and that effort rubbed off on the entire team.
“We didn’t have the game that we wanted. Shots weren’t falling, but the team didn’t give up, and I was really proud of them.”
The score remained close for the first 11 minutes, with the Duchesses pulling ahead by a basket on five separate occasions.
With 7:19 left in the second quarter, Bailey hit two free throws to give Dixon a 10-8 lead.
A minute later, Sterling (19-11) tied it, as Sandoval found Maya Pearson under the basket for an easy lay-in. Pearson, a freshman, had six points in the opening half.
“It’s exciting to see our young players step up and make plays,” Sandoval. “We know that this season is coming to an end, and we want them to start developing confidence for the future.”
After an empty Dixon possession, Kayleen Terrock found Sandoval in the corner in transition for the big 3-pointer that gave Sterling its first lead at 13-10.
The momentum shifted permanently to Sterling from that point on, as it closed the half on a 18-4 run to take a 26-14 lead going into the break.
“I thought we played really well defensively that first quarter and a half,” Sandoval said. “After that 3, we just started to click offensively. We knew this was the last time we’d play Dixon, and we wanted to be sure that we played our best.”
Sandoval had eight points in the second quarter, and two assists. She finished with 13 points, including the 3-pointer early in the third that pushed the lead out to 15 points.
Kiarra Harris added 13 points and eight rebounds for Sterling.
Carly Hartle chipped in 11 points and six rebounds for Dixon.
Star of the game: Gabby Sandoval, Sterling, 13 points, 2 assists, 1 block
Key performers: Carly Hartle, Dixon, 11 points, 6 rebounds; Kiarra Harris, Sterling, 13 oints, 8 rebounds
Up next: 3A Mendota Regional championship, Sterling vs. Mendota, 7 p.m. Friday