GBK: Dons enjoy feeling of home in CIF State opener


After years of playing big postseason games on the road, the Santa Barbara High girls basketball team is loving it being at home.

Fresh off winning their first CIF-Southern Section title, the Dons were seeded No. 1 for the CIF State Division 3 Regionals, which means they’ll be at home until the finals.

They took their first step to a regional final with a 67-32 rout of Shafter from the Central Section before a loud, towel-waving crowd at J.R. Richards Gym.

Amber Melgoza and Desirea Coleman treated the home crowd to some dazzling play. Melgoza poured in 28 points and Coleman scored 16 with five assists and four steals.

Santa Barbara (27-5) will now play La Cañada in a second-round game on Saturday at home. La Cañada upended Eagle Rock.

“It’s fun being home,” said Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher, who relishes the scent of cotton candy and popcorn coming from the snack bar. “The (CIF-SS 3AA Division) semifinals (a win over Yorba Linda) were the first semi I’ve ever had at home out of six semifinals. And (for the regionals), we’re home and we’re home and, if we win, we’re home again, so you can’t beat this.”

Santa Barbara stormed out to 14-0 lead, stifling Shafter with a full-court press. The Dons forced several turnovers which they turned into layups.

“We knew they were going to press from the get-go,” Shafter coach Shawn Pennel said, “but the pressure was pretty intense.”

Santa Barbara had 21 steals in the game.

“When you’re the home team playing teams that travel a great distance, you try to jump on them,” said Butcher. “We played at Hanford West last year (in the regionals) and it was a long trip, and it was hard to get going early. That was one of our goals and we were able to get that.”

Melgoza scored the first 10 points, with six of them coming after steals and another after a blocked shot by Jada Howard.

Shafter didn’t score its first basket until the 2:48 mark of the period.

Butcher said the press got the team to play with intensity and keep its focus after two days of celebrating the CIF title at school.

“It’s like a party right now,” he said. “We had a parade at school with the boys team and the band, so the last two days it’s been hard to practice … really hard to practice. There’s been limited focus the last two days.”

Howard played probably her best game of the playoffs. She had four steals and scored eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter. The back-to-back treys pushed Santa Barbara’s lead to 50-18.

“I told her at halftime, ‘You got to be more aggressive.’ That doesn’t mean you have to shoot the ball, but she’s got to look to create something,” Butcher said. “She leads the team in steals. She’s a bright kid, a hardworking kid. A huge contributor.”

Shafter (23-7) was led by Mariaha Lopez with 10 points.

The Generals missed shots early and hurt themselves with turnovers.

“They were beating us down in transition in the first quarter, and we were able to take that away,” Butcher said. “They had some good opportunities but they missed them. It could have been a 4 or 5-point game if they capitalized. But we did a better job at getting back.”