Commentary

Nine Is Fine

Originally Published: March 21, 2009
By Mindi Rice | ESPN HoopGurlz

Jonae ErvinAP Photo/Rich PedroncelliJonae Ervin came up big when Brea needed it most, sectionals and the state championship game.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Brea Olinda coach Jeff Sink refused to say what the media wanted to hear after Friday's CIF Division II championship game.

But senior Janae Ervin was willing.

"Mater Dei was a really big game," the Cal Poly-bound guard said of the previous week's win. "That felt like the state title game. They were the toughest team we played all year."

[+] EnlargeJeff Sink
AP Photo/Rich PedroncelliBrea Olinda coach Jeff Sink celebrates with his team.

Less than one week after taking out ESPN Rise Fab 50 No. 2 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 44-38, in the Southern California Championship, the No. 22 Wildcats from Brea, Calif., put the hurt on Carondelet (Concord, Calif.) in a 68-45 state championship victory at ARCO Arena.

"We had a difficult road to get here (playing Hanford and Mater Dei)," Sink said. "That team tonight was very competitive. ... They're quite good and they're well coached. We knew we couldn't have a letdown (after Mater Dei)."

In the Division V championship, senior Shelley Gupilan led Bellarmine-Jefferson (Burbank, Calif.) with 22 points on the Guards' way to the program's first CIF championship with a 55-47 win against Pinewood (Los Altos Hills, Calif.).

California championship action continues Saturday at 9:30 a.m. with the Division IV title between Modesto Christian (Modesto, Calif.) and Mater Dei Catholic (Chula Vista, Calif.). No. 10 St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) faces Inglewood (Calif.) at 1 p.m. for the Division III crown, while No. 34 Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) plays Monte Vista (Danville, Calif.) for the Division I title at 6 p.m.

Friday's win gives the Brea program its ninth state title, the most basketball titles -- girls or boys -- for any school in state history and its first since a streak of three ended in 2000. Current USC coach Mark Trakh led Brea to its first four titles, starting in 1989, before any of the current Wildcats were born.

"Sometimes I think we are taken a little bit for granted," Sink said. "We've been good for 25 years and that's fairly remarkable. ... It's difficult and it takes the commitment of all the kids and the coaches. Starting Monday, we'll celebrate, then Tuesday we go back to work."

As with even the best of teams, there will still be work to do. Despite an 18-7 lead after one, the Wildcats struggled at times, turning the ball over 22 times and being whistled for 24 fouls. While her teammates shot 27.7 percent in the first half, junior Kelsey Harris pulled Brea along with 18 first-half points.

[+] EnlargeKeitra Wallace
AP Photo/Steve YeaterCarondelet guard Erica Payne, on the floor, is tied up by Brea Olinda guard Keitra Wallace.

Harris, who finished with 25 points and fouled out in the final minutes, was "on fire," as Sink said, draining a state-record-tying four three's and hitting eight of her 12 shot attempts.

"This year, I knew what it was about," said Harris, who was on the second-place team that played at ARCO two years ago. "I just wanted to get the 'w' for our eight seniors out here."

Sophomore Justine Hartman, who saw limited minutes due to foul trouble, scored 10, while senior starters Kendall Rodriguez and Ervin chipped in eight apiece. Sophomore guard Alexis Perry added six.

After Brea turned a 20-9 lead early in the second into a 31-11 game with three minutes to go in the first half, the Cougars never got closer than 15 the rest of the game. Sophomore forward Erica Payne led Carondelet with 18 points and nine rebounds.

Carondelet coach Margaret Gartner wasn't so quick to anoint Brea as the state's top team, saying early season scrimmages against Division III programs St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) and Sacred Heart Cathedral showed her otherwise.

"We thought there might be a little more pressure," Gartner said of Brea's defense. "We feel like it was more about us and we didn't play our game. ... We made their defense look a lot better than it was."

Carondelet had 25 turnovers in the game and shot 28.9 percent. Brea outrebounded the Cougars, 42-30.

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Mindi Rice is a National High School / ESPN HoopGurlz staff writer. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune. She can be reached at mindi@hoopgurlz.com.