By JOHN MURPHY
March 3, 2013
It was almost unfair. Shooting the basketball as if tutored by Larry Bird, the Burlingame girls team overwhelmed Branham 62-48 Saturday for the section title.
The victory came in the Central Coast Section Division III championship game at Foothill College and had the Panthers happily posing for pictures and raising their index fingers after the game.
And as impressive as the Panthers shot the ball (58 percent from the field), Panther coach Bill Lepeltak said his team wasn't at its best.
"We can actually shoot better," Lepeltak said. "We can shoot the ball, and so can (the Bruins). They probably didn't shoot as well as they can."
Dana Michaels was sizzling for Burlingame (28-2) in the first half. She made five three-pointers to lift the Panthers to a 35-22 halftime lead. Lauren Rally's lay-in with three seconds left in the third quarter stretched the Panthers' lead to 51-34 and there was no catching Burlingame after that.
Lepeltak, for much of the game, sat impassively at the far end of the bench, taking in the action. Every once in a while he'd rise to impart some knowledge, but for the most part he just enjoyed the show.
It's been Lepeltak's insistence on excellence and knack for letting the girls play that has elevated the Panthers, who went a combined 28-49 over the past three years with much the same team.
"What I did was change the culture and raise the bar a little bit," Lepeltak said. "They seemed to respond really well to structure and me putting the responsibility on them. They know what they're supposed to do (on the court) and they know that when I stand up, I'm either really happy or really mad."
Unburdened by a coach who lets them do what they do best, Burlingame claimed its first section girls title since 1988 when the Panthers also won the state championship.
"It's a blast (coaching the Panthers)," Lepeltak said. "They're loose. They respond to not being over-coached. I don't think all coaches realize that kids play better when they're happy. Our kids were throwing ice at each other (before the game) because it's fun. If you can't have fun doing this, you're in the wrong business."
Michaels made 5 of 7 from beyond the arc in the first half. She finished with 17 points and was ably backed by Rally's 16 and 11 from Nina Newman who sat out much of the first half with foul trouble. Newman scored six points and had two assists in the third quarter.
Newman agreed the Panthers are not a team weighed down by X's and O's or pressure.
"(Lepeltak) made things simple for us," she said. "We ran maybe two plays. He just lets us play."
Branham (23-7) shot just 28 percent from the field (14 of 50). Taylor Morway led the Bruins with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Rebecca Sankey added 15 points.
Branham guard Jessica Mok was impressed by the Panthers.
"They're all really good shooters and they kept their composure throughout the whole game," she said. "We were on kind of a roller coaster. In the third quarter we kind of (got down). We put in a lot of hard work to get here and it just hurts that we didn't get the win."
Both teams will now advance to the NorCal Regionals, but until then Burlingame can celebrate section titles for both its boys and remarkable girls.
"It's awesome, I'm so excited and I can't stop smiling," Michaels said.
John Murphy may be reached at jmurphy@Prep2Prep.com.