In the spring, Corona del Mar High's Kelly Tam played on the same girls' club basketball team with the starters on the San Juan Hills basketball team.
"I know how they play," Tam said.
Tam reminded her club teammates how dangerous she can be with the ball in her hands.
In the final minute of the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs, the host Sea Kings went to Tam with the game on the line on Wednesday. She hadn't made a basket all night. She wasn't even CdM's first option.
Nevertheless, Tam took the team's last two shots, a three-pointer and a layup, and she made them both to rally the sixth-seeded Sea Kings to a 38-37 upset of No. 3 San Juan Hills.
The home fans stormed the court afterward, and with good reason. The Sea Kings came back from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter to reach the semifinals for the first time since the 1982-83 season, when they went on to win the Division 3-A title.
The Sea Kings (21-8) are one victory away from making their second section finals appearance in school history. They travel to No. 2 Lake Elsinore Lakeside (22-6) for a semifinal game on Saturday at 7 p.m.
"This is incredible," said CdM Coach Mark Decker, who in his eight seasons in charge had never seen the home crowd mob his players the way it did on Wednesday. "[The Stallions] were in control [with a 23-7 lead at halftime] and they played well. But we were just not playing well. We came into the locker room at halftime and we couldn't decide which was worse, our [three of 19 shooting on] offense, or our defense, because they were both terrible. We … just panicked and we weren't playing good defense [in the first half].
"What did [the Stallions] score, 14 points in the second half? I don't care what else is going on offensively, but our defense has to get us going. Then we needed more ball movement, getting Natalia [Bruening] and Krista [Anderson] some touches."
Anderson and Bruening, CdM's 6-foot-2 and 6-3 post players, were the first two options on the Sea Kings' final possession.
Bruening helped cut the Stallions' lead to eight with a three-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter, giving her nine points. Bruening had made two of the third quarter's last two baskets, and the other was a three-pointer by Maria King, who finished with 11 points.
But after Allie Biedermann gave San Juan Hills a 37-36 lead by making one of two free-throw attempts with 30.1 seconds to go, the Sea Kings called a timeout. Then they inbounded the ball underneath the basket, Kate Thompson giving it to Tam.
Tam had tied the game up at 36-36 with a three-pointer in the corner with 40.9 seconds left. The guard brought the ball past midcourt, and at the 12.1-second mark, CdM called another timeout to draw up one more play.
"We were trying to get a look inside, throw it to Krista and then to Natalia," Decker said. "Our third option was Tam."
Thompson, who had two key three-point plays during a 69-second span late in the fourth, inbounded the ball to Tam. And San Juan Hills guard Jordan Coleman almost tied up Tam, before Tam ripped the ball away and dribbled to her right.
She didn't stop. Tam drove toward the basket and banked in a layup, putting CdM ahead by one with 5 seconds remaining. Tam finished with five points and the home side erupted as the Sea Kings outscored San Juan Hills (22-4), the Sea View League champion, 31-14, in the second half.
But the Stallions called a quick timeout. They had 4.5 seconds to go down the court for a possible game-winning shot. They went to Coleman, who led the Stallions with 11 points. She raced toward the other end, but Anderson blocked her shot, sending the CdM gym into a frenzy.
"These girls worked so hard to experience this," said Decker, as he watched his players celebrate with the fans. "This is awesome."
CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs
Corona del Mar 38, San Juan Hills 37
SCORE BY QUARTERS
SJH 14 – 9 – 7 – 7 — 37
CdM 3 – 4 – 12 – 19 — 38
SJH – Coleman 11, Van Galder 10, Fox 6, Conklin 5, Biedermann 5.
3-pt. goals – Conklin 1, Coleman 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
CdM – King 11, Bruening 9, Thompson 6, Tam 5, Anderson 5, Gaughan 2.
3-pt. goals – King 3, Tam 1, Bruening 1, Thompson 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.