GBK: Coleman steps up as Dons reach first CIF final since ’89

Yorba Linda vs. Santa Barbara High CIF Girls Basketball

Dessy Coleman shoots over Yorba Linda’s Courtney Vaccher in Saturday night’s CIF semifinal. (Presidio Sports Photos)


Desirea Coleman saw that she needed to put Santa Barbara High on her back Saturday night, so she buckled down for some heavy lifting and carried the Dons to their first CIF Finals appearance in girls basketball since 1989. The senior had 20 points in a 48-41 home win over Yorba Linda in a Division 3AA semifinal.

Santa Barbara will play Lakeside for the title next weekend, with the time and place to be determined.

Coleman, a 5-7 point guard, was handed the task of guarding Yorba Linda’s sturdy 6-foot-2 center, Texas Tech bound Courtney Vaccher, and held her to just nine points. With Santa Barbara (25-5) scoring machine Amber Melgoza struggling from the floor, Coleman led the offense and went 6-for-7 from the charity stripe.

“Amber’s our leading scorer, I know that,” she said. “When I saw she wasn’t making anything I knew it was my time to come in and do what I know how to do.”

Melgoza needed a full half to score her first three points, hitting a jumper at the buzzer to send the Dons into the locker room down 23-21. She finished with 10 points.

Coach Andrew Butcher, whose last and only CIF Finals appearance was with the 1989 squad, seemed nonchalant about the achievement, saying he always “thinks of the next game.” He became emotional, however, when he spoke of Coleman.

“She’s made me older, and I think I’ve made her older too, but she played great,” he said, wiping away the first tears he remembers ever shedding after a game.

“She had 16 turnovers over the last two games and I’d been giving her hell. Tonight she had just three,” said Butcher.

“It was a big risk tonight, because when she gets bumped hard she gets upset and it affects her whole game,” he said about the defensive matchup. “That’s why I’m kind of losing it here, because for her to play 32 minutes and not do what she’s tended to do for four years is a big step for her.”

Despite a physical night of playing a much bigger player in the paint, Coleman committed just two personal fouls while swiping five of her team’s whopping 21 steals. The undersized Dons pestered the Mustangs (11-15) all night by disrupting the passing lanes and stripping the ball.

“We weren’t playing as aggressively,” said Yorba Linda coach Teiko Ikemoto. “(Handling defensive pressure) has been our inconsistency throughout the year, and that’s the part where we just needed to settle down.”

Freshman forward Kimberly Gephardt was a big key for the Dons, pulling down 11 rebounds among a thicket of taller Mustangs in the post, including back-to-back offensive boards with two minutes left to help seal the game. Jada Howard added eight steals.

Both teams were slow to start, staying in single digits until Howard made a lay-up with 50 seconds remaining to put the Dons ahead 10-9. Sarah Mangiarcina grabbed a rebound and a putback with a minute to go in the first half to make it 23-19 in favor of the visitors, but Melgoza’s buzzer-beater cut that lead in half. The sensational sophomore, coming off of a 40-point performance, went just 4-for-17 from the field on the night.

The teams went back-and-forth in the third quarter until the Santa Barbara pressure started wearing down the Mustangs, picking up four points on three consecutive steals as the hosts took a 34-27 lead with 2:50 to go in the period. A couple of free throws by Holly Salas brought Yorba Linda to within three at 39-36 with 4:45 to go in the game, but Coleman responded with a swish from long range and the Dons effectively possessed the ball the rest of the way.

Yorba Linda…11 12 10 8 — 41
Santa Barbara…12 9 16 11 — 46