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Luck runs out for La Jolla Country Day’s girls basketball team

Since the dawn of the new millennium, La Jolla Country Day’s girls basketball team has been synonymous with state tournament runs, and this year was no different. But whereas the Torreys came out of the state tourney with championships in the first four years of their magnificent run, in the past two they have fallen just short.

For the second straight season, the Torreys fell in the CIF-State Division IV semifinal game, dropping the Southern California Regional final to Windward of Los Angeles, 48-35, on March 11 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

It was a difficult loss for Country Day, especially considering the fact that luck simply didn’t seem to be on its side. The Torreys had one of their worst shooting days this season, and even as they put the brakes on Windward’s pair of Division I college recruits, their defensive prowess couldn’t carry them.

“I thought we played a very good defensive game,” Country Day Coach Terri Bamford said. “We held a very good team to 48 points. Offensively, we just couldn’t make any shots. In that situation, what can you do?”

Windward was a powerhouse team throughout the 2005-'06 season, advancing to the state championship game while going 29-3 and steamrolling its opponents throughout the playoffs. The Wildcats scored 75 points in their first CIF-Southern Section playoff game and scored at least 64 points in three other postseason victories.

Their victory over Country Day was their 12th straight win.

The Torreys, meanwhile, had won seven straight games going into their matchup with Windward and had been victorious in 12 of their last 14 games. They had scorched their competition in the CIF-San Diego Section playoffs, and beat city rival The Bishop’s School, 44-37, in the section championship game.

The Torreys started the state tournament with a 64-40 victory at home over Oaks Christian of Westlake Village on March 7. They then toppled host Marlborough of Los Angeles, 67-59, in a second-round game on March 9.

But when they arrived at the regional championship game, things just didn’t go the Torreys’ way. Every ball that hit the rim seemed to bounce out for them, and even their best shooters weren’t making shots.

Without shots falling, they struggled to find an offensive rhythm, and never found the groove that so often had carried them to victory.

Six-foot-three sophomore center Janae Fulcher was the team’s leading offensive performer. She recorded a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds, but no other Country Day player managed to score in double figures.

“We weren’t doing a very good job with ball reversal, and we had a hard time getting it inside to our post players from the perimeter,” Bamford said.

Country Day finished its season with a 21-11 record and won the Coastal League South title easily with a 6-0 league record. Along the way, the Torreys faced some very difficult competition from across the nation, and beat many of those teams, including El Camino of Oceanside, St. Mary’s of Berkeley, Centennial of Las Vegas, Our Lady of Mercy from Rochester, N.Y., and Helix of La Mesa.

The fact that the Torreys simply advanced as far as they did was remarkable. During their season, they lost a pair of key players to injury. Both junior guard Kiara Stinson and sophomore guard Dominique Conners suffered season-ending injuries when they tore the anterior cruciate ligaments in their knees.

The Torreys were forced to adjust their approach, but it hardly slowed their pace at all.

“We had to regroup both times after those situations,” Bamford said, “but we did a good job of it. I think it really paid off that we were able to stick together so well as a team throughout the season.”

Country Day has now been to the state tournament for six straight years. The Torreys won four straight championships and have been to the regional final the past two seasons. It has been a remarkable run, but it’s not one that Bamford expects to see end anytime soon.

The team will graduate just two seniors from this year’s team - guard Ashley Booker and guard/forward Brenna Settles - and returns a large part of the core of this team next season.

The Torreys have two freshmen, five sophomores and a junior who are expected back next season, and hope to make another run to the state tournament and toward that state championship that has been so elusive of late.

“We’re returning our three leading scorers to our team next year, so we’re excited,” Bamford said. “We’re looking forward to another great season next year.”