It was more of the same for Valencia High School Thursday night, only the stakes were a little higher this time around.
Relentless determination carried Valencia past Canyon, 56-45, in the Southern Section 4-AA girls' championship game before 3,675 at Chapman College's Hutton Sports Center.
Valencia just wouldn't give up defensively, forcing Canyon into a dismal 20-of-59 (34%) shooting performance.
No less impressive was senior center Kristen McDonald's work on the boards against a substantial height disadvantage.
McDonald was dwarfed by Canyon's 6-foot-3 Sheri Rhyne and often outnumbered, what with Canyon's Keri Erkenbrack and Anne Herzog draped all over her.
Nevertheless, the 5-11 McDonald led Valencia with 23 points to go with 12 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end.
Nancy Amoroso, the Tigers' feisty point guard, added 21 points, including nine of 11 free throws.
"I think Amoroso had a great night," Canyon Coach Bill Fitzgibbons said. "Not to take anything away from their big gal (McDonald), but Amoroso is the glue that holds them together."
Valencia (20-9) advances to the state regional playoffs, which begin next Tuesday. Canyon (22-5) must wait for an at-large berth.
The Tigers won their first girls' basketball title despite finishing in a second-place tie with Savanna in the Orange League.
League champion Brea-Olinda plays for the 3-A title tonight against Atascadero.
"We played very good man-to-man defense and made their players take some very bad shots," Valencia Coach Debi Woelke said.
Indeed, only Rhyne, who had 10 points, shot better than 50% from the field.
Erkenbrack also had 10 points, but was four of 12 from the floor. Christa Ramirez also had 10, but made four of 16 shots, including just two of 10 from three-point range.
Valencia was able to connect on 20 of 45 from the field (44.4%).
"Keri and Christa have been very consistent with that shot (three-pointers) all year," Fitzgibbons said. "I told them in the huddle if you have it, take it. We needed to score a lot of points in a hurry."
McDonald and Amoroso had personally extended a 29-24 halftime lead to 44-30 by the end of the third quarter. McDonald had eight, all from within 2 feet of the basket, and Amoroso had seven on a mix of jumpers and twisting drives to the basket.
Canyon relied on three-pointers in order to try to catch up, but the shots never fell and the Comanches fell further behind.
But Canyon also had trouble when it tried to work the ball inside and exploit the height advantage.
"They played a tough man-to-man and we had a lot of trouble dealing with it," Fitzgibbons said. "I think we should have done better."
Amoroso's jumper to begin the second quarter put Valencia ahead for good, 17-15. McDonald added a three-point play on an inside move and a free throw a moment later and the Tigers' lead was up to five. The advantage varied from between four and six points until the third-quarter surge led by McDonald and Amoroso.
Valencia outscored Canyon, 15-6, in the third quarter as the Tigers' defense really clamped down.
"We were a little worried about their size," Woelke said. "Sometimes we ended up with a 5-3 girl guarding a 6-footer. I don't know how we did it, but it worked. Maybe we wanted it more."