GBK: Cardinals meet their goal: a shot at a CIF championship

OJAI — The goal was to be playing in March.

The Bishop Diego girls basketball team achieved that goal on Saturday, the last day of February. The Cardinals will be playing on the first weekend of March in the CIF Finals.

The senior scoring duo of Jordyn Lilly and Hannah Rogers combined for 33 points, and Bishop Diego overcame early jitters and pulled away from Thacher, 39-31, in a Division 5A semifinal game at a packed Thacher gym.

The second-seeded Cardinals (22-8) will play top-seeded Bloomington Christian for the title at a site to be announced on Monday. Bloomington Christian won at Avalon, 59-53, in the other semifinal.

The finals appearance will be Bishop’s first since 1989. The Cardinals last won the title in 1978, when Lilly’s mother, Paula, played.

“It’s been a while, so we’re all really, really excited,” said Lilly.

After a ragged first quarter, Lilly got Bishop going in the second quarter by scoring 10 straight points. She started the run with back-to-back 3-pointers to give Bishop an 18-10 lead. She then got whistled for her third foul with 3:35 left in the quarter.

Coach Jeff Burich said he was concerned “for a brief second” when Lilly picked up the third foul.

“Jordyn had that happen at St. Bonnie. She never got a foul after that,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I have to remember that as the path gets closer and closer to ending.’ But I wasn’t going to give (Thacher) any motivation or momentum. Jordyn is a smart enough player. If it hurts us, it’s on me, but we’ll let it go as long as we can.”

She came out of the game briefly, and never picked up the fourth foul.

Lilly, who scored 21 points, continued her scoring from the perimeter in the third quarter. She credited the screens of Rogers to free her for the open looks.

“Hannah did a great job of helping me get open, setting some screens at the elbow (of the court), and that definitely opened things up for me. It was definitely a team effort,” said Lilly.

The Bishop Diego girls basketball team will be playing for a CiF championship next Saturday after beating Thacher in the semifinals.

The Bishop Diego girls basketball team will be playing for a CiF championship next Saturday after beating Thacher in the semifinals.

“I knew it was going to be tough getting the ball inside,” Burich said. “I told them our best play was to shoot the ball and go get the offensive rebound and score off of that. That’s why we ran so many high screens because we were able to get inside position on them when our post went high for those screens. I told Jordyn just keep shooting. Even if you miss, our post players are in better position to get offensive rebound and get the put-back and score.”

Rogers set the picks, rolled to the basket and got the inside position for rebounds. She finished with 10 boards to go with her 12 points.

“We started running more screen and rolls to get me and Jordyn the opportunity to get open and help the team out,” said Rogers.

Rogers was thrilled about reaching the goal she and her teammates set at the beginning of the year.

“It’s a really cool feeling, accomplishing a goal I set for myself in basketball,” she said.”I can’t describe it in words.”

Said senior Morgan Wallace about going to the finals: “It’s pretty awesome. I’ve never been this far throughout my entire basketball career, so it’s pretty nice. And with this group of girls, I’m so excited. We’re definitely a family. I’ve never had this kind of chemistry with any other team before.”

Lilly concurred. “The whole team chemistry this year is so amazing. Everyone just lifts each other up; it’s great.”

Down 34-21 going into the fourth quarter, Thacher made a run at the Cardinals, cutting the lead to 10. But Lilly answered with a 16-footer off a Rogers screen to seal the win.

“It feels amazing, honestly,” Lilly said, “especially having so many fans here and supporters from our school. We’re so excited we reached that goal and we’re ready for next Saturday. We want to get that win on Saturday so bad.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: A correction was made on the year Bishop Diego last played in the CIF Finals. It was 1989. The Cardinals last won the title in 1978.