GBK: Dons can’t be stopped, advance to regional finals

Mount Miguel had the size, the speed and athleticism, but all those qualities weren’t enough to stop Santa Barbara High’s incredible and historic postseason run in girls basketball.

The Dons fought back with a pressing defense, good rebounding and the scoring of Amber Melgoza to defeat the San Diego Section team, 60-50, in a CIF State Division 3 Regional semifinal game at a raucous J.R. Richards Gym on Tuesday night.

Top-seeded Santa Barbara (29-5) advances to the Regional Final on Saturday and will play No. 3 Santa Margarita in a 6 p.m. game at Colony High School in Ontario. The winner advances to the CIF State Finals the following week in Sacramento.

Santa Barbara is the CIF-Southern Section 3AA champion while Santa Margarita is the 3A champ.

Melgoza poured in 34 points, making 11 of 27 shots. It was the third time in the post season the sophomore sensation has scored more than 30 points in a game.

Amber Melgoza of Santa Barbara dribbles up court  while being pressured by Mount Miguel players.

Amber Melgoza of Santa Barbara dribbles up court while being pressured by Mount Miguel players.

But the Dons proved once again they are much more than one player. Jocelin Petatan had 14 points and eight rebounds, including three on the offensive boards. Kimberly Gebhardt fought for a team-high 10 rebounds, Desirea Coleman handed out 10 assists to go with seven points and Jada Howard had three steals and five points. Melgoza grabbed seven boards.

They did all of this against a tough opponent that attacked the rim with a vengeance.

“If you made a mistake, they either went to the rack or got off an easy shot,” Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher said of Mount Miguel. “If you relax or do anything wrong they would score. They scored over 100 several times because they just go, so it was a good effort.”

The fourth quarter was a perfect example of how the Dons work for each other. After Mount Miguel’s 6-foot Deijah Blanks scored on an offensive rebound to pull the Matadors to within three at 45-42, Coleman knocked down a 12-footer.

The Matadors scored again but Santa Barbara responded with a free throw by Petatan. She missed the second, but Mount Miguel dropped the ball out of bounds. The Dons worked the ball around to Melgoza, and she banked in a shot with two seconds left on the shot clock for a 50-44 lead with 2:28 left in the quarter.

Mount Miguel missed two free throws and Coleman dribbled around before finding Petatan for a basket. Petatan then tipped a Matadors’ pass in the back court, Howard picked up the ball and fed Petatan, who scored and was fouled. She missed the free throw, but the Dons had a 52-44 lead with 1:05 left in regulation.

Desirea Coleman looks to pass to a teammate as she is met by Mount Miguel's Deijah Blanks (32) and  Brittany Miller.

Desirea Coleman looks to pass to a teammate as she is met by Mount Miguel’s Deijah Blanks (32) and Brittany Miller.

The Dons played tough on the boards, battling the taller Matadors for rebounds. Gebhardt was especially fierce on boards.

“I don’t really have the jumping, but I’ve learned to be big, be strong and be confident, definitely,” said the freshman.

“Kimberly was everywhere and she had four fouls,” Butcher said. “And she’s smart enough not to foul out. “

He also liked the defensive play of Liliana Ponce off the bench.

“Lil Ponce comes in and she’s just a whirling dervish; she’s everywhere and she guarded (Blanks) a bit. And I think she had less points against Lil than Jocelin, so that was big time to give Jocelin a rest.”

Butcher praised the poise of Coleman, who had an off-night shooting, but took care of the basketball and found open teammates for good shots. One of her best assists came when she drove along the baseline and hit Melgoza, who moved into the key, caught the pass and banked in a short jumper to put the Dons up 41-32 in the third quarter.

“She played under control basketball with pressure in her face for 32 minutes, and that’s a tough thing and she was able to do that. That was big time,” Butcher said of Coleman.

Kamree Harrison hit a 3-pointer for the Matadors to make it 54-47. But the Dons answered quickly, with Melgoza throwing a long pass to Coleman, who scored and was fouled. She missed the free throw, but Santa Barbara led by nine, 56-47, with 50 seconds to play against a tiring team.

“We just ran back and forth and we gassed them out,” said Melgoza.

“We wanted to get them tired,” Butcher said. “They didn’t have a deep bench, so we wanted to go uptempo, but their coach was smart and he dropped three deep (in the first half), one of which was 32 (Blanks). So when they broke the press, she’d get it and they’d score, and that hurt us in the first half.”

But the Matadors hurt themselves by missing several layups in the first half. Their last lead was 25-24 midway through the second quarter.

Melgoza was fouled after an offensive rebound and made two free throws to put the Dons back on top, 26-25. She then buried a 3-pointer, giving her 18 points in the first half.

Santa Barbara led 30-26 at halftime.

After Mount Miguel’s Zaria Branch drove in for a layup to start the third quarter, Santa Barbara scored seven straight points to open up a 37-28 lead. Howard scored on a fast break, Melgoza followed with a basket and Petatan converted a three-point play after a nice pass from a double-teamed Melgoza.

Blanks scored 15 points to lead Mount Miguel, while Harrison scored 13 points and DeJunay Pope and Zaria Branch added 10 each.

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