It’s been quite a roller coaster ride for the Sobrato High girls basketball team this season.
Through it all, the Bulldogs have persevered and are off and running—literally. Sobrato (6-1) plays an up tempo style on offense and brings the heat defensively, which was on full display in an impressive 62-56 win over Homestead High on Dec. 21.
It was the Bulldogs’ best win to date considering Homestead is a traditionally tough team from the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League’s De Anza Division. Sobrato went through a quick transition as former coach Erica Wallace—who served in that position for the last 10 years—stepped down shortly before the season started.
In came Shayla McPhearson, who last year led Evergreen Valley High to a 22-3 record, including a perfect 10-0 mark in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s upper Mount Hamilton Division.
McPhearson wasn’t currently coaching when word spread that the Sobrato job had become open. She applied, interviewed and got the job just a couple of days before the Bulldogs’ season-opening 61-48 win over Oak Grove on Dec. 2.
The team had all of one or two practices under McPhearson before they had to play Oak Grove. Talk about a rapid-fire turn of events.
“I was new to them and they were new to me, so it was hard for everyone at first,” she said. “But we’re getting the ball rolling.”
Are they ever. Emiliana Bejarano, Violet Asuncion, Brianna Bouton, Savannah Brito, Makayla Heffernan and Chandler Kirk lead a talent-filled roster that is a heavy favorite to win the BVAL’s Santa Teresa East Division this season.
Against Homestead, Bouton led all players with 19 points, Heffernan finished with 16 and Bejarano had 15 points. Bejarano is a junior point forward who can do it all: bring the ball up the floor against pressure, drive to the basket, rebound, hit short to medium range jumpers, and defend.
“Emiliana is really good, really smart with the ball and keeps us grounded,” McPhearson said. “She knows when we need a bucket, knows when we need a stop, and leads our team that way.”
Bouton also has a versatile skill set, and her length gives opposing teams all sorts of issues. She averages over four steals a game because of her tremendous instincts and ability to anticipate passes and get into the passing lanes.
The junior wing wreaked havoc against Homestead, forcing the Mustangs into several turnovers which led to Sobrato continually scoring fast-break layups.
“Brianna is a defensive connoisseur,” McPhearson said. “She gets a lot of steals and turns defense into offense.”
The Bulldogs’ ability to apply full and three-fourths court pressure has been key to its success. They hounded Homestead into five turnovers in the second quarter, six more in the third and seven turnovers in the fourth. When McPhearson inherited the team, she was immediately excited because the talent was evident.
“The girls are more than capable and I believe in this team 100 percent,” she said. “It all starts with pressure. I’m a defensive coach before offense and any team I have, I instill defense in them. The girls have been working really hard on defense and that’s what’s helped us.”
Asuncion is a tremendous on the ball defender and one of the catalysts defensively. Similar to Bouton, Asuncion created several turnovers in the Homestead game. Meanwhile, Heffernan is the team’s best shooter and drained four 3-pointers. When Heffernan is in rhythm, few players in the area can stroke it from the outside as well as she does.
“Makayla is a knockdown shooter,” McPhearson said.
Kirk scored two points against Homestead, but they came at a pivotal moment. The senior guard’s deep two-pointer from the left corner came off a nice kick out pass from Bouton, who had driven to the basket. The bucket slowed down the hard-charging Mustangs, who had whittled a 13-point deficit midway through the third to four points in the opening minutes of the final quarter.
Homestead got to within two points, 57-55, with 2:53 remaining, but never closer. Heffernan answered with two free throws and after Homestead hit a free throw, Sobrato missed an uncontested layup. The Mustangs then tried to get the ball upcourt only to have Bouton steal it and pass it to Heffernan for a layup.
The most impressive aspect of Sobrato’s victory was it trailed 16-6 with just under four minutes left in the first quarter. The game could’ve easily gotten away, but Asuncion started a quarter-ending 11-6 run with a drive to the basket. Bejarano, Bouton and Brito—the Killer B’s—along with Heffernan all scored during the run. Sobrato continued to surge in the second quarter, outscoring Homestead 24-13 to take the lead for good.
“We’re all playing as a collective and each player makes each other better, so that’s what makes me excited,” McPhearson said. “The girls come to practice everyday ready to work and they really listen. They’re locked in.”
As is McPhearson, who has taken all of the whirlwind events in the past couple of weeks in stride.
“When I heard a spot was open, I was like ‘perfect, this is what I want to do,’” she said. “People asked me if I wanted to coach again and I said, ‘Absolutely, absolutely.’ It’s what I love to do so it was an easy decision for me. I’m excited for this team and I know it’s going to be a great season.”