ANAHEIM -- Anyone who has played basketball long enough has likely been scolded at one time or another for failing to follow their shot.
Taylor Spears of Brea Olinda showed the importance of that Tuesday afternoon.
Spears grabbed her own rebound off a missed jumper with just over a minute remaining against the top-seeded Long Beach Poly girls’ team and laid it back in, helping the fourth-seeded LadyCats hold on for a 49-43 victory in a Southern Section Division 1AA semifinal at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Brea Olinda will meet second-seeded Mater Dei in the championship game for the second year in a row Friday at 8:45 p.m. at Anaheim Convention Center. The Monarchs won last year’s meeting, 63-54.
“I knew it wasn't going to be easy,” said Brea Olinda coach Kim Cram-Torres: "Poly is so good and they're so tough. That's been my No. 1 concern: Would we be able to close out the game? I knew that we would be able to battle and keep it close. But the trick was closing.”
Spears, who finished with a team-high 14 points, did her job on her eighth and final rebound. As she moved in to grab the offensive board, she remembered another piece of advice.
“In practice, whenever that happens, coach tells us to go right back up,” said the 5-8 senior guard. “You have to gather yourself, compose yourself and go right back up with the ball.”
The basket gave Brea Olinda (24-5) a four-point lead after the Jackrabbits had scored four straight and appeared to be gaining momentum after trailing by nine to start the final quarter.
Poly (28-3) would cut the deficit to two points once more on a straightaway bank shot by Keyla Morgan with 53.8 seconds remaining. Arin Perry then passed the ball out of bounds on the ensuing possession for Brea Olinda, but Poly’s leading scorer, 5-10 senior forward Destiny King, missed a turnaround jumper near the free-throw line. Brea Olinda point guard Anna Kim grabbed the most important defensive rebound of the game and called timeout with 14.1 seconds left.
“[King] got fouled across the arm," Poly coach Carl Buggs claimed after the game.
Jasmine Saucer was intentionally fouled on the inbounds pass and made both free throws with 12.2 seconds left to stretch the lead back to four. Keitra Wallace then sealed the win by stealing the ball on the other end of the floor and laying it in at the buzzer for the six-point victory.
“I saw Destiny King make a U-shaped cut and I was, like, ‘so she’s going to shoot a three,’ ” Wallace said. “So I just intercepted the ball in the passing lane.”
On the bench, Cram-Torres was thinking just one thing.
"I’m thinking, ‘OK, grab it with two hands, be fundamental and just make sure it’s our ball,' ” she said. “That was the key thing with this game, being more fundamental.”