The most successful girls basketball season in Laguna Blanca’s school history came to a close on Wednesday night, as the Owls were stopped 50-45 at Merovick Gym by third-seeded Hillcrest Christian in CIF’s Division VI-AA quarterfinals.
Head coach Ernie Quiroz’s Owls finish with a 13-8 record in a season that included a Condor League championship and two playoff wins. Senior Megan McAlister is the only Owl that won’t return next season.
“It’s hard for me to go out with a loss at home but I’m really proud of everyone,” McAlister said. “Each and every player stepped up and gave it their all.”
Laguna worked until all the way to the final buzzer, when Natalie Nomura’s layup made it a five-point game, the closest the Owls had been since the first quarter. The Owls scored the game’s final 10 points, six from Amanda Schulenberg and four from Nomura.
“A lot of teams get down by 17 and then roll over and die and lose by 30. But we hung in there,” Quiroz pointed out.
Laguna’s hard work helped make the game competetive after it looked like there could be a rout in the first half.
Hillcrest Christian, which features five seniors, burned down its net in the first quarter while taking a 22-6 lead. One of those seniors, Christy Coracan, led the Eagles in scoring with 15 points. Nine of those came in the first quarter.
From there, Laguna outscored Hillcrest Christian 39-28.
“I’m glad to get out of here with a win. It’s a tough place to come up here and play,” said Owls coach Debbie Haliday, who played at San Marcos under Bob Archer.
The Eagles’ Brittany Espinoza iced the game by sinking a 3-pointer that gave Hillcrest a 50-35 lead with 3:52 left on the clock. The score had been frozen at 47-35 for more than two minutes as the Owls desperately tried to shrink the gap to single digits.
But four straight turnovers and an airball stalled Laguna’s comeback, leaving the Owls without enough time to come all the way back.
McAlister finished with eight points, 11 rebounds, three steals and five blocked shots. Schulenberg recorded a team-high 10 points and four steals while Julia Kent collected a team-high in steals with five.
Nomura and Zoe Serbin kept the Owls afloat in the first half, accounting for 11 of Laguna’s 18 points before halftime.
“I see this team getting better,” said Quiroz while thinking ahead to next season. ”Even though we’re losing Megan, I think we can be better because of the experience factor.”
Hillcrest Christian, in the playoffs for the fifth straight year, move into the semifinals to play either No. 2 seed Orangewood Academy or Pacifica Christian.
HILLCREST CHRISTIAN 50, LAGUNA BLANCA 45
HILLCREST CHRISTIAN – Espinoza 13, Corcoran 15, Rehman 2, Wagner 9, Hovivian 6, Benymine 4, Alos 1.
LAGUNA BLANCA – Kent 2, Serbin 6, Nomura 9, Davis 3, Brown 4, Schulenberg 10, Bonser 2, McAlister 8.
Hillcrest Christian 22 13 10 5 - 50
Laguna Blanca 6 12 13 14 – 45
3-pointers – HC 4 (Espinoza 2, Corcoran 2), LB 3 (Nomura, Davis, Schulenberg)