The Preps : SOUTHERN SECTION GIRLS' BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS : 4-A : Easterly Gets Some Help, Katella Takes Title : Vance Comes Off the Bench to Provide Spark in Overtime Victory Over Muir

Times Staff Writer

Joni Easterly entered Thursday's game averaging 22.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.

She's the undisputed star of the Katella High School girls' basketball team and one of the best players in Orange County.

Connie Vance? Well, she had made nine field goals during the season.

The Knights couldn't do without either of them in the Southern Section 4-A championship game.

With Easterly and Vance leading the way, Katella (26-3) came from oblivion to defeat Muir, 54-48, in overtime in front of 3,675 at Chapman College's Hutton Sports Center.

Easterly scored nine of her team's 13 points in the overtime, including three free throws in the final 28 seconds to clinch the victory.

"Some ball hog, huh?" Easterly said. "I was hot and I wanted the ball. When someone's unconscious like that, you have to get them the ball."

The Knights rallied from a 10-point third-quarter deficit. They did it because of a 34-point, 12-rebound performance by Easterly and the steady play of Vance, a little-known, little-used point guard.

Vance entered the game with 4 minutes 30 seconds left in the third quarter and the Knights trailing, 27-17.

The Knights hadn't scored a point for 9:23 and had thrown the ball away six of its first nine possessions of the third quarter.

"I told Connie to go in," Katella Coach Barbara Bausch said. "I didn't have to say anything else, she could see what was happening."

Vance, who replaced Angie Gomez, calmed the Knights down and, even more importantly, got the ball to Easterly.

Vance was responsible for only one of the Knights' 22 turnovers.

Once Vance entered the game, Easterly got hot. She had scored only nine points in the first half, but finished the third quarter with a flurry, scoring six of Katella's eight points in the quarter.

Easterly shot at every opportunity of the fourth quarter. She made four of six shots and scored 11 points, including a three-point play to put the Knights ahead, 40-38, with 4:19 left in regulation.

Easterly, who was doubled- and tripled- teamed most of the night, made 11 of 22 field goals for the game. She also sank 12 of 16 free throws.

"We were just trying to work the ball to whoever got open off the pick," Bausch said. "Joni just happens to be the best at that. She handles the pressure much better now than she did the last two years."

After Muir's Lisa Salsman scored to tie the score, 40-40, Easterly fed Vance for a five-foot jumper to put the Knights ahead, 42-40. The basket nearly doubled Vance's scoring average (1.2) for the season.

Salsman, who had a team-high 23 points and 15 rebounds, sent the game into overtime when she tied the score, 42-42, with a short jumper with 51 seconds left.

"I felt like I had to play the best ball of my life in the overtime," said Easterly, a senior.

Neither team was at its best in the first half, as both appeared nervous.

Muir (23-4) tried to work the ball inside, but had little success. The Mustangs had 10 turnovers in the half and 15 for the game.

Katella appeared on the verge of breaking the game open early in the second quarter. The Knights went on a 7-0 run to take a 17-9 lead with 4:46 left in the half.

But they wouldn't score again the rest of the half.

Following a Muir timeout, the Mustangs ran off 10 consecutive points. Salsman and Rose Jong each had four points during that stretch.

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