The prize awaits the North Salinas High girls basketball team.
All the squad has to do is win one more game.
In a showdown of Vikings, North Salinas defeated Palo Alto 51-41 on Wednesday night in the Central Coast Section Division I semifinals.
With the win, second-seeded North Salinas will advance to Saturday’s championship game, where it will play top-seeded Gunn, which downed fourth-seeded Piedmont Hills 39-27 in the other semifinal.
North Salinas, which had rolled through many of its opponents all season, overcame its struggles in Saturday’s quarterfinals. When times got tough in Wednesday’s semifinals against Palo Alto, the local Vikings rose to the challenge.
And when the final buzzer sounded, the girls jumped up and down before celebrating with the dozens of North Salinas classmates and supporters who made the hour trip north to turn the Gunn High gym into something that sounded like the gym at 55 Kip Drive.
North Salinas will play in its third title game and first since it won it all in 2010.
“I’m happy for the girls,” said North Salinas coach Darren Jackson. “I’m excited for the kids.”
North Salinas came into the game averaging 61.9 points a game while allowing 41.3 points a game on average. It was the latter that helped the team get past Palo Alto.
Both teams were stuck in a grinder to start the game, as Palo Alto didn’t score until 5:28 remaining on a three-pointer. North Salinas didn’t get on the board until 3:44 left in the first quarter on a three-pointer by Jordyn Enos. But North Salinas had held Palo Alto to six points in that timeframe.
Palo Alto did its best to keep North Salinas from getting the lead, grabbing loads of offensive rebounds.
North Salinas finally got a taste of the lead with 1:16 to go in the second quarter when Sherice Robinson buried two free throws to give the local Vikings a 17-15 lead. But Palo Alto came back to end the quarter with free throws by guard Skylar Burris.
The teams traded baskets to start the third quarter, and that was the last trade, as North Salinas allowed only a Palo Alto three-pointer the rest of the quarter.
Meanwhile, North Salinas pressured Palo Alto and came up shining like diamonds. Aaliyah Urzua gave North Salinas the lead on free throws and then came back with a made jumper as her feet were on the three-point line.
Enos found Urzua cutting to the basket, and Urzua finished with a layup with 2:33 remaining in the third quarter. After a stop, North Salinas came back, with Springs barreling past everyone for a layup with 1:37 remaining in the third. The Vikings got another stop, with Enos grabbing the rebound and sprinting the other way to finish.
The local Vikings’ 30-22 lead after the end of the third quarter only got bigger, and the defense kept Palo Alto on its heels.
North Salinas did not allow back-to-back Palo Alto baskets in the second half until 1:20 remaining in the game. But by then, North Salinas was on its way to victory.
“The girls played with resilience. They played hard,” Jackson said. “It’s all about them. They stuck together, all 16 of them.”
Enos had 15 points, Springs had 11 points and Urzua and Monae Hobson each had 10 points.
Palo Alto came into the game still with a chance to finish the season with at least a .500 overall record. But its loss ended their hopes at 12-13.
North Salinas improved to 24-2 on the season.