Hilmar avoids 1st-round upset

HILMAR -- On paper, it was a No. 4 seed against a No. 13 seed.

But the Hilmar High girls basketball team knew it was closer than that.

"Those are just numbers," Hilmar senior Lindsay Mendes said. "We knew this was going to be a close game. When you get to the playoffs, everybody's strong."

The Yellowjackets had a few scares, but went 11 for 15 from the free-throw line down the stretch, holding off Vacaville Christian in a 51-40 victory in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs Tuesday night at Hilmar High School.

The No. 4 Yellowjackets (24-3) have another home game Thursday; they'll play at host to No. 5 Linden (22-6). The Lions beat Colfax 60-47.

Tuesday's game was much closer than the final score. Vacaville Christian kept the Yellowjackets on their heels with a full-court press they ran on every possession.

"All the coaches I'd talked to said Vacaville Christian would press us for 32 minutes," Hilmar coach Paul Willis said. "They're very good at it."

The press forced several turnovers, but when Hilmar got the ball across the halfcourt line, Jessica Payne was able to find to seams.

The lefty guard made four 3-pointers, ending up with a game-high 16 points.

"Everything was wide open," Payne said. "I found the open spots and I was feeling pretty good. I just kept shooting."

The Falcons only trailed by a point at halftime, and were down 34-27 after three quarters. When Doris Becerra made two free-throws with 3:39 left, Vacaville Christian was only down 40-34.

But the Yellowjackets made two stops, and the Falcons were forced to foul after that.

Shelbi Santos had 12 points for Hilmar, and Caitlin Benning added seven.

While the Falcons' press gave the Yellowjackets problems throughout the game, Hilmar played a tough brand of defense as well.

"They're a pretty high-scoring team," Willis said. "We kept them to 40 points; that's pretty good. I'm happy with that."

Next up is Linden, the Mother Lode League runner-up.

"Linden's a good team," Willis said. "In Division IV, all 16 teams are pretty good.

"This team we beat tonight ... they're a league champion that knows how to win games. They were a tough challenge."

Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at or 578-2300.