NCS Girls B-ball quarterfinal

Heritage topped San Leandro 77-53 in the quarterfinal round of the North Coast Section (NCS) Girls' Division 1 Basketball Championships in Brentwood, Calif., Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Ranked second in the NCS, Heritage will take on third-ranked San Ramon at home on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. (Tony Kukulich/The Press)

Heritage girls basketball coach Rob Ocon isn’t known for predicting the future. 

But the Patriots’ 77-53 win last week over San Leandro in the North Coast Section Division 1 quarterfinals might change his reputation. Ocon told his squad beforehand that if they followed his game plan, center Abby Muse

would rack up an easy 20 points. It turned out he was correct.

Muse scored a game-high 31 points — including 22 in the second half — helping the Patriots cruise to victory.

“We knew going into the game they had some post players who could be a threat as long as we let them stand still in the paint,” Ocon said. “If we made them run, we had an advantage. We told Abby, ‘we are going to get the ball and run and you are going to have an easy 20 points based on just getting down the court.’ She did that.”

Second-seed Heritage (25-3) will now host third-seed San Ramon Valley at 7 p.m. on Feb. 20 for the right to play for a North Coast Section championship.

Muse and the Patriots dominated 10th-seed San Leandro (21-7) in the second half, outscoring the Pirates 40-26 to cement the win. Muse was aided in the scoring column by guards Jordan Sweeney (12 points) and Paige Ziemann (9 points), as well as forward Kidest Befikadu (8 points).

“I think we did well tonight,” said Muse, a 6-foot-2-inch center, who outran and outskilled the Pirates’ bigs all night. “I think we pushed the ball really well.”

Heritage controlled the game from the start, but San Leandro, hungry for an upset, didn’t go down without a fight. The Patriots, who led by eight at the end of the first quarter, went on a 15-8 run in the first six minutes of the second quarter to go up 15. But San Leandro answered with a 10-5 run to cut its halftime deficit to 10.

San Leandro pulled within nine points with 5:48 left in the third quarter, but Muse and the Patriots closed the quarter on a 17-9 run to take a commanding 17-point lead at the end of the period. Muse scored 14 of the team’s 20 third-quarter points.

“We felt our bigs could outrun their bigs,” Sweeney said. “Abby and Kiddy (Befikadu) definitely did that tonight. They had a heck of a game.”

San Leandro guards Janessa Defranco and Mykala Pakeman each scored 10 in the losing effort, and fellow Pirates guard Maya Pollard chipped in with nine.

The Patriots’ next contest — against San Ramon Valley (26-3) — looks to be their toughest home game in about two months, Ocon said, adding that the Wolves are a talented three-point shooting squad. Heritage will be playing without key guard Lacey Santos who tore her ACL and MCL in the Patriots’ 74-16 win over Freedom two games ago.

But the Patriots are battle-tested, having faced Clovis North, Sacramento, McClatchy, Granada Hills Charter and St. Mary’s, twice this season, finishing that series of games 3-3.

As for Ocon’s predictive abilities, they may continue for at least a second game. He forecasts a close game with either team capable of coming out on top. 

“He (San Ramon Valley head coach John Cristiano) has a great team,” Ocon said. “It should be a battle. That game right there could go either way.”