Something must’ve been in the air yesterday as the Kennedy High Lady Eagles’ basketball team traveled south toward San Jose to take on the Branham High Lady Bruins in the first round of the NorCal Division III playoffs. After a quick stop at Panda Express to eat some pre-game rice bowls, everyone jumped back on the bus with full bellies, and sang Sponge Bob Square Pants and Dora The Explorer theme songs for the next five minutes.
Lady Eagle’s head coach Rae Jackson sat toward the front of the bus and heard it all. Smiling, he was too shy to turn around. But deep down the head coach knew laughter and song were good signs for a team that was about to play its first ever state basketball game.
As the bus approached Branham’s campus, Jackson sent a text message to all his players that read, “Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit—Napoleon Hill.” But for star point guard Raven Caldwell inspirational reward and refusal to quit don’t mix with real-life telephone bills. “Oh, coach,” she jokingly shouted as she opened her SMS, “you just messed up my Metro minutes!”
The game, on the other hand, was different cartoon. The Lady Bruins (23-8) came out firing and handled Kennedy’s full court press with geometric spacing and swift passes. Once past half court Branham passed the ball around the perimeter until they found sophomore sharpshooter Regina Sankey. The 5’7” forward sank two quick three-pointers and finished the quarter with 10 points. And with 63 seconds left in the first quarter Branham held an 11-point lead.
But thanks to Jackson’s inspirational text message, the Lady Eagles (26-6) refused to quit. By the end of the first half Kennedy trimmed Branham’s lead to four.
“They’re still in the game,” Lady Bruins’ head coach Sam Hernandez said at halftime about Kennedy. “We came out pretty strong but Kennedy didn’t go anywhere. They came right back and gave us kind of the 1-2 [punch] right back. But there’s 16 minutes left in the game and one team is going to want it more.”
That would be Kennedy. Especially Lady Eagles junior forward Julian Robinson who finished the game with 27 points. “I just got madder,” Robinson said describing her effort in the second half. “I wasn’t getting mad to fight, I got mad to win.”
Kennedy took a 38-37 lead with little more than four minutes left in the third quarter and never looked back. Halfway through the fourth quarter the Lady Eagles stretched the lead to 15.
“Things turned around once the nerves settled down,” Jackson said of the victory and 32-minute defense. “We think we can win every time we’re on a basketball court. You look good in the first half [against our defense], but can you do that in the fourth?”
Linsay Chao, Kennedy’s reserve shooting guard, said after the game that eating at Panda Express brought them good luck. “I read the fortune cookie thing and that got me hyped up,” she said. “It said, ‘The fortune is coming to me.’”
Kennedy’s next game is Saturday at 6 p.m. against one-seed Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco.