By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
SANTA ANA – Briana Harris made sure the third time was not a charm.
And for St. Paul High School, it led to a disheartening result.
Harris, a senior guard, scored the winning points with six seconds to go in St. Monica’s 46-45 victory over the Swordsmen in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A championship game Saturday night at Mater Dei High.
Katrina Balatico threw an inside pass to Harris, who had 21 of her game-high 23 points and seven of her 11 rebounds in the second half.
Harris slipped by the Swordsmen’s defenders for a 3-foot bank shot.
“We just kind of lost track of her,” St. Paul senior Cassidy Carrillo said.
“We should have been more focused on her. She made some tough shots and that’s what good players do.”
By the time St. Paul could call a timeout, there was 3.4 seconds to play.
Priscilla Hidalgo got three-quarters down the floor, throwing up a 35-footer at the buzzer that hit the backboard, but was well off the mark.
“We all played our hearts out and it did not turn our way,” Carrillo said. “We gave our all and that’s all we wanted out of each other.”
St. Monica avenged two Camino Real League defeats against St. Paul, which won the league title and was the tournament’s top seed.”It’s really hard to beat somebody three times,” St. Monica coach John Skinner said. “We know each other so well.”
It is the Mariners’ first CIF-SS title in their first attempt. They were the tournament’s second seed.
St. Paul remains winless in championship games, losing in its fourth appearance.
The Harris carnage started well after the Swordsmen had built a 33-16 halftime lead, dominating the game.
“I don’t know if we thought we had won the game,” St. Paul coach Robert Miller said. “We were comfortable, we became tentative and the next thing you know Harris hits a shot and they get another easy layup. They had too many easy buckets in the second half.”
St. Paul scored only five points in the fourth quarter, making only 2 of 14 field-goal attempts. Carrillo had 13 of her team-high 17 points in the first half. She took only two shots in the fourth, missing both.
With the Mariners trailing 40-29, Harris scored on a 17-footer to end the third quarter. She stole the ball to start the fourth and scored and then made a follow-up basket to cut the Swordsmen’s lead to 40-35.
“The coaches said to slow down and it will come to you,” said Harris, who was 1 for 8 in the first half with three fouls. “I slowed down and played my game.”
St. Monica took the lead for the first time with 1:51 to play when Elena Kostadinov scored on a follow-up basket. During that 9-0 run, the Swordsmen were called for a technical foul when a player tried to enter a game during a dead ball.
The official had given the ball to St. Paul to inbound and then took it back.
“The technical foul was not right,” Miller said. “They hit the buzzer and she came in because they waved her in.”
Harris made only one of the foul shots, but scored a layup for a three-point swing.
“That free throw, that’s the game,” Miller said. “That one point we could have back and we would have the ball.”
Clarissa Perez hit the Swordsmen’s final basket of the game, a backdoor layup with 1:24 remaining to tie the game. She was fouled, but missed the free throw.
Holly Shafer got the rebound and was fouled. She hit the second free throw for a 45-44 Swordsmen lead.
Harris missed a running 5-footer and St. Paul called time out. Clarissa Hernandez dribbled the ball near center court as the clock ran down.
Gloria Scipioni lunged at the ball, got it rolling into the backcourt and Hernandez was called for the foul when they both dove for it with 34 seconds left. Harris missed a 17-footer and players rolled on the ground trying to get the rebound. When the ball was tied up, St. Monica had possession. That’s when Balatico went inside to Harris.