ONTARIO — The incredible journey of the Santa Barbara High girls basketball team will take it to Sacramento to play for a CIF State Championship.

The Dons defeated Santa Margarita, 58-48, to win their first CIF State Division 3 Southern California Regional Championship on Saturday at Colony High.

Santa Barbara did it with tough defense and terrific free-throw shooting. They made 25 of 31 from the foul stripe compared to 5 of 12 by Santa Margarita.

Defensively, the Dons contained Santa Margarita’s quick guards, Zaire Williams and Tori Anderson. They shot a combined 12 of 32 for the game and just 3 of 14 in the first half.

Amber Melgoza scored 20 points to lead the Southern Section 3AA Division champions, who recorded their program-best 30th win. They’ll take a 30-5 record to Sacramento to play Modesto Christian, a 58-56 winner over Redding Enterprise, at the Sleep Train Arena.

“I’m happy this is the team I’m going to the state championship with,” said Desirea Coleman, the lone senior starter on the Dons. “I love all of (the players) and I’m super excited for the championship.”

Coleman scored 15 points and was a perfect 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. Jada Howard had nine points and was 7 of 8 from the line and Kimberly Gebhardt made all four of her foul shots during crunch time.

“We shoot 60 percent as a team, so we really came through on free throws,” said Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher. “Those free throws Kimberly hit, with the game on the line, those were big time. That was amazing for her to hit those shots in that situation.”

Amber Melgoza holds up the CIF Regional title plaque as her  Santa Barbara teammates celebrate after beating Santa Margarita, 58-48, in the Division 3 regional final.

Amber Melgoza holds up the CIF Regional title plaque as her Santa Barbara teammates celebrate after beating Santa Margarita, 58-48, in the Division 3 regional final. (Photo by John Palmintieri, KEYT)

The Dons took control of the game in the second quarter, going on a 13-0 run to start the period to take a 24-11 lead. Santa Barbara attacked the rim and got to the free-throw line. During their run, they made 7 of 8 from the charity stripe. Jocelin Petatan stepped up big in the first half, scoring eight points while guarding the quick Williams.

“She hit some big shots,” Butcher said of Petatan. “She’s got such a great left hand; she got some big rebounds and she was guarding their team’s best player.

Meanwhile, Coleman, the team’s point guard, was making it tough for the Eagles 5-11 Sheldon Cornwell in the paint, banging bodies with the physical player.

“I knew Dessy was the only girl who could guard her on our team,” Butcher said. “Dessy basically took the punishment, knowing she couldn’t risk the foul. To me, it was critical. Dessy was the only person who could defend her and the only person that could handle their pressure.”

The Dons didn’t tear it up shooting the ball (16 of 45 and 1 of 10 on threes), but they took the ball hard to the basket.

“When you have a team that’s out pressuring, you got to attack somehow or else you’re in big trouble,” Butcher said. “But it’s tough because they’re big and strong and we got a bunch of skinny little girls.

“Offensively it wasn’t a thing of beauty. I think our defense kept us in it.”

Santa Barbara kept the upper hand in the third quarter. Melgoza hit an 18-footer and Coleman took a pass from Melgoza and buried a 3-pointer to put the Dons ahead 41-28 at the 2:51 mark.

Santa Margarita made a charge in the fourth quarter behind Tori Anderson and Cornwell and cut the Dons’ lead to six, 47-39.

But the Dons stood up to the challenge by making their free throws. Gebhardt sank two before Williams scored to make it 49-43.

“We were just tired at one point,” Coleman said. “But toward the end I got my team together and told them this is all about heart. We were going to win this game because of heart. They showed that the last four minutes. They worked their butts off, and we showed what we had.”

Santa Barbara made 7 of 8 in the last minute to secure the victory and book a trip to Sacramento.

Santa Barbara High's girls basketball team won the CIF Regional title and will now play for a state championship.

Santa Barbara High’s girls basketball team won the CIF Regional title and will now play for a state championship. (John Palmintieri photo)

“The sense of urgency for them was just a little bit more than us,” said Santa Margarita coach Matt Houser, who guided his team to a Southern Section 3A title and a 23-14 record. “We were just riding this wave for as long as we could. Sooner or later our youth was going to start showing and that’s exactly what it did.

“Santa Barbara did a great job, they didn’t let the lead go,” he continued. “We tried to get back in the second half but it’s all about that first half, how you start, how you make your presence known and how you finish and they did just great job.”

Butcher said his team has taken to heart the motto: “Play with joy.” He said Angela Munoz, who played for him in the early 1980s, used that phrase in an email to the team at the start of the CIF playoffs.

“She said play with joy, don’t have pressure and enjoy the fact you’re doing something that you didn’t think might be possible,” Butcher related. “And we’re playing that way, and it makes a difference.”


SANTA BARBARA — Coleman 15, Howard 9, Melgoza 20, Gebhardt 6, Petatan 8. Totals 16-45 25-31 58

SANTA MARGARITA — Anderson 13, Woodward 1, McMullen 2, Williams 15, Donahue 6, Cornwell 11.

Santa Margarita… 11 5 17 15 — 48
Santa Barbara… 11 19 13 15 — 58

Total fouls: SM 21, SB 14. Fouled out—Cornwell. 3-pointers: SM 1 (Anderson), SB 1 (Coleman)


PRE-GAME INTRO: Santa Barbara High and Santa Margarita meet for the CIF State Division 3 Regional girls basketball title and a spot in the State Finals next week in Sacramento.

Tip-off will be at approximately 6:20 p.m. at a double-decked gym nicknamed The Thunderdome.

The teams are both CIF-Southern Section champions. Santa Barbara (29-5) won the 3AA Division title while Santa Margarita (23-13) captured the 3A crown. The Dons are the top-seed in Southern Regional and Santa Margarita is No. 3. The regional final is being played at Colony High in Ontario.

The Division 3 Northern Regional final is between No. 2 Redding-Enterprise and No. 2 Modesto Christian.

The last team to win a regional title from Santa Barbara County is St. Joseph in 2011.

The teams are on the court warming up following the Division 4 boys finals. Santa Barbara is wearing its white uniforms; Santa Margarita is in blue. Dons fans in attendance are wearing the green T-shirts designed and printed by the team. The shirts say “Great teams play in March.” The fans also have the yellow towels.

The players are being introduced.

Tori Anderson fouled on drive, makes both FTs, 43-34
Steal by Zaire Williams and layup, 43-36.
Turnover by Dons, 6:01 left; Time out SB
SM misses shot.
Amber Melgoza hits big shot after forcing turnover and running down loose ball, 45-36
SM misses two free throws
SM’s Sheldon Cornwell completes a 3-point play, 45-39, 3:03
Dons turnover with 2:09 left, bad pass
Offensive foul on SM
Melgoza scores against tight defensive pressure, 47-41, 1:11 left
Gebhardt fouled, shooting 1 and 1; nothing but net on first one; makes 2nd, 49-41
SM’s Zaire Williams drives in for basket, 49-43: 1:02 left
Howard fouled in backcourt; Howard makes first of 1-and-1; makes 2nd; 51-43
Cornwell misses inside and fouls Gebhardt with 41 seconds left; Cornwell fouls out
Gebhardt makes 1st and 2nd, 53-43, 40 seconds left
SM turnover. Howard is fouled; makes 1 of 2, 54-43, 25 seconds

Dons taking ball out to start 2nd half
Morgan McMullen hits 14 footer for SM, 30-18
Zaire Williams scores on offensive rebound for SM
Kimberly Gebhardt drives and scores for SB, 32-20
SM has come out a lot more aggressive
Coleman hits fallaway bank shots, 34-22
SM’s Cornwell gets free again inside and scores, 34-24
Melgoza hits an 18 footer
Coleman knocks down a 3-pointer, 41-28, 2:50

Quarter ends with Santa Barbara leading 43-30.

Jocelin Petatan goes coast to coast after rebound, 13-11 SB
Dessy Coleman draws charging foul, nullifying SM basket
Kimberly Gebhardt feeds Melgoza inside and she’s fouled, makes 1 of 2 FTs, 14-11 SB
Coleman drives to the hoop and is fouled; time out SM, 6:25 left
Coleman makes both FTS, 16-11 SB
Petatan attacks rim and scores, 18-11, 5:33
Lil Ponce great inside pass to Melgoza, who is fouled; makes both FTs, 20-11, 5:13
SM starter Cornwell picks up third foul; Melgoza hits 2 FTs, 22-11, 4:42.
Dons allowing SM only one shot. Gebhardt grabbing boards.
4:21 into the quarter and SM has yet to score.
Out of a time out, Coleman hits 15 footer, 24-11; Gebhardt assists
SM ends drought with a free throw by Anderson, 24-12
Petatan scores at other end, 26-12
Williams scores first basket of quarter for SM, 26-14
Santa Margarita starting to attack the basket and draw fouls.
Anderson misses 2 FTs for SM
Melgoza scores after a steal by Howard
Coleman drives and scores, 30-14
Donahue scores at buzzer for SM, 30-16

It’s halftime and Santa Barbara leads 30-16
Melgoza has 12 points and Petatan has 8; Taylor Donahue has six to lead Santa Margarita


Dons win the tip
Amber Melgoza 12 footer, 2-0 Dons
Sheldon Cornwall scores for Santa Margarita, 2-2
Jada Howard goes coast to coast 4-2
Melgoza steal and drive for layup 6-2, 4:52
SM’s Zaire Williams drives, scores and is fouled; misses FT, 6-4, 3:06
SM”s Taylor Donahue scores inside, 6-6
Melgoza makes 1 of 2 FTs, 7-6 Dons, 2:01
Toi Anderson scores for SM, 8-7 SM, 1:25
Jocelin Petatan responds for Dons, 9-8 SB
SM’s Donahue scores after a blocked shot by Howard, 10-9 SM
SM makes FT for 11-9 lead
Howard fouled, makes 2 FTS, ties score at 11-11 at end of the quarter.

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