On Feb. 22, the La Jolla High School girls' basketball team drove an hour and a half through the relentless rain to San Marcos to take on Mission Hills High School in a first round game of the Division III CIF playoffs.
Mission Hills, first-year high school, fielded a talented young team without any seniors, while seven of the Lady Vikings basketball team will graduate this year. As Coach Ty Eveleth said after the game, "You can't beat having seven seniors."
Both teams got off to active yet jittery starts, struggling to get the ball into the basket. La Jolla led 5-3 with a little more than three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
La Jolla's patient passing game set a pattern of cohesive team play that would last throughout the contest. The girls spread the court, whipped the ball around the perimeter and then looked inside for 5-foot-10 seniors Victoria Desmond and Roxy Lambert, who led the Lady Vikes in scoring with 17 and 15 points respectively. After Lambert hit two medium-range jumpers, the girls from the beach ended the first quarter leading 9-5.
Freshman Keisha Cox proved to be Mission Hills' leader and best athlete. Her steal and open court lay-up brought the Grizzlies back to within 9-11 and, more importantly, Cox's play seemed to inspire her teammates.
While Coach Eveleth substituted freely and experimented with his lineup and defensive match-ups, the Grizzly girls pushed the tempo and tried to gain advantage on the fast break. The Lady Vikes, however, regardless of who was on the floor, hustled back and disrupted Mission Hills with their aggressive, all-around hustle.
Coach Eveleth said later: "We have a lot of depth and a lot of kids who understand their role on the team."
While La Jolla's starters rested in the second quarter, Mission Hills made a nice run at La Jolla behind the inspired play of sophomore Morgan Bates and the precocious Cox. By halftime, the Grizzlies had fought back and taken a 24-17 lead.
In the third quarter, after a put-back by Desmond, a lay-up by hustling Becky Stark, and another inside bucket by Desmond, the La Jolla girls cut the Mission Hills lead to 24-23.
Mission Hills demonstrated its balance, getting baskets from a number of starters and reserves. La Jolla answered with the crafty inside play of Desmond, whose three-point inside power play put the Lady Vikings up 29-28. Baskets by Bates and Alexia Ramirez brought the Grizzlies back to lead at 33-29 Mission Hills at the end of the third.
It appeared to be a battle to the buzzer between two well-matched teams. Coach Eveleth and his seniors had other plans, however. First, the coach inserted senior guard Cara Williams into the lineup to hawk the dangerous Cox.
"I've got to take my hat off to Cara," said the coach. "She came off the bench and frustrated their best player with her defense."
Meanwhile, seniors Lambert and Desmond stepped up for a series of clutch baskets. Williams chipped in with a three-point bomb from the right wing. Stark canned a 17-footer from the left, and then fed the lefty Lambert for another swish and a 40-38 La Jolla lead.
While the Mission Hills girls rushed some shots and appeared fatigued, the Viking girls demonstrated poise under pressure. When yet another senior, Lauren Olsen, calmly stroked a three from the top of the key, La Jolla was up 43-40. Lambert hit again, then Desmond wheeled and dealed in the lane. La Jolla 47, Mission Hills 41, with 1:53 left.
Mission Hills registered two free throws, but Lambert swished a 10 footer to put La Jolla's margin back to 49-43 at 1:30.
Mission Hills began to foul in desperation and managed to hit two three pointers in the closing moments, but the La Jolla girls calmly stepped to the line and sealed the deal. Final score: La Jolla 53, Mission Hills 49.
On Feb. 25, the La Jolla girls traveled to Kearny High to challenge the second-seeded Komets. This would have been a good matchup had it not been for the dominating play of Komet Tenisha Patrick, a 5-foot-10 center who rose high above the rest. Patrick's triple-double of 23 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocked shots was the difference in the Komets' 58-43 victory.
La Jolla was led in the losing effort by its best player, senior center Desmond, with 14 points and a strong effort on the boards. Promising junior Rene De La Cruz stood out with her relentless hustle, defensive tenacity and nine points on the night.