Lathrop committed four turnovers on its first five possessions before Sanah Singh’s pull-up jumper ended the dry spell 2 minutes, 59 seconds into its Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV out-bracket game against visiting Central Catholic.
“Nerves,” Spartans coach Dwayne Davis said. “They were just nervous.”
The butterflies were long gone by the middle of the fourth quarter, and Kierstin Constantino was doing Kierstin Constantino things late in the 15th-seeded Spartans’ 56-41 victory.
The red-shot guard capped off a crippling 15-2 salvo in style, shaking off a defender with a crossover dribble for a lefty layup before knocking down a deep 3-pointer from well behind the top of the arc with 1:38 remaining. That made it 54-38 Lathrop, and it was the last of her six 3s as she finished with 26 points.
“I already know it’s going to go in when I’m shooting the ball,” the soft-spoken Constantino said of her rising confidence.
Retooling following two years with section championship aspirations, youth-laden Lathrop (14-14) has come a long way since its 1-8 start to this season.
The Spartans won their final three regular-season contests to reach this point, including a 54-48 upset of Western Athletic Conference champion Los Banos and a 60-48 defeat of Beyer in a tiebreaking game that determined which team would receive the third and final automatic berth from the league.
Constantino set a program record with nine made 3s in the Beyer game and amassed a varsity career-high 29 points.
“We’re a young team,” Constantino said. “In the beginning of the season nobody knew how to play together, but we’ve developed a lot and got so much better. We’re ready for next year.”
There’s at least one more to go for 2019-20 — Lathrop travels to Placerville tonight to face second-seeded El Dorado (20-7).
Constantino is a big reason why the Spartans are moving on. The 5-foot-4 sophomore also had four assists and four steals against No. 18 Central Catholic (7-14), and she’s averaging 22.5 points during their four-game winning streak.
“She has grown,” Davis said. “She’s giving up the ball now knowing that if I let my teammates score then the floor kind of opens up for me and now I can have wide-open shots.
“That’s been our progression, that’s been our growth. She has grown as a point guard, so that has helped us grow as a team. Before, it was, ‘OK, everybody just watch Kierstin.’ Now, they’re confident as well.”
Six-foot sophomore center Sydney Hanks contributed seven points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Dual-sport standout Isa Paniagua (seven rebounds, five steals) — she also plays soccer over the winter season — and recent freshman call-up Alaba Olaleye (nine rebounds) provided energy off the bench and scored seven points apiece.
Central Catholic was anchored by 5-11 junior center Tessa Gallo, who poured in 29 points and 11 rebounds. Hannah Castillon chipped in five points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals, but the Raiders only had three other scoring contributors each with three points or less.
“Our thing was, we knew she was going to be able to get some points, but I’ll trade the 3s for the 2s all night long,” Davis said. “When we saw the film of them, (opponents) would drop down on her and then they’d be open for 3s.
“She’s going to do her work, but we’re going to make it a burden for them. We’re not going to let anybody else get into the game.”
It doesn’t get easier tonight at El Dorado, where the Spartans will be met by a team with more length in the post and the perimeter.
“Now we get to go face some bigger trees up there in El Dorado,” Davis said. “We’re not done. Hopefully we can show how much we have gotten better. We’ll throw the ball up and see how it comes out.”