Valley College center Ruth Aguilar has taken on a new and unwanted role in the state junior college women’s basketball championships--that of spectator.
Plagued by persistent foul trouble the past two games, Aguilar has not been the offensive power that she had been all season. But Aguilar was on the court when it counted Friday night, scoring 10 points in the second half to key a comeback and lead the Lady Monarchs to a 70-69 semifinal victory over top-ranked Fullerton College at Valley.
Valley (31-3) will play American River College (28-4), a 53-51 winner over College of the Sequoias, in the championship game at 7 tonight.
“We were not playing well in the first half, but we showed the kind of character this team has and the leadership that Ruth provides,” Valley Coach Doug Michelson said of the comeback.
Aguilar, limited to seven points in Valley’s quarterfinal victory over College of San Mateo, had 14 points against Fullerton, which lost for the first time in 19 games. Despite her consistent foul trouble, Aguilar is confident that her team can fill in whenever she is on the bench.
“It’s frustrating, but I know that anybody on this team can come in and take my spot,” Aguilar said. “I don’t care how long I play as long as my team is doing the job.”
Behind Aguilar and Christine Rumfola--who had a game-high 22 points--Valley outscored Fullerton, 37-30, in the second half to eliminate the Hornets (27-2).
Sandrine Rocher added 20 points for Valley, which has won 15 games in a row.
Sophomore guard Debbie Wagner paced Fullerton in the first half with five three-point baskets and the Hornets used a flurry of three-point baskets midway through the half to break in front.
Freshman guard Tisa Rush tied the score, 12-12, on a three-point shot with 13:40 left before the Hornets made three three-point baskets in a row to go ahead, 21-12. Valley cut Fullerton’s lead to 35-33 with less than a minute left in the half, but the Hornets scored four consecutive points to go back in front by six at intermission.
Aguilar, who had three first-half fouls, scored two baskets and Rumfola added three as Valley used a 12-2 run at the start of the second half to go ahead, 45-41.
“I think we lost it in the first eight minutes of the second half,” Fullerton Coach Colleen Riley said. “They made about four straight baskets and we had to play from behind.”
Fullerton closed to within a point several times in the last three minutes. Freshman forward Kelli Johnson, who led Fullerton with 21 points, scored with 51 seconds left to pull the Hornets to within 68-67, but Shagarro Lattin answered 18 seconds later to give Valley a 70-67 lead.
The Hornets did not make another field goal. Guard Lisa Crosskey hit two free throws with no time remaining, but Valley already had clinched the win.
American River also advanced to the final with a dramatic second-half comeback. Freshman Samantha Uding made a six-foot jump shot with a second left to send the Beavers to the championship game for the second time in the past three years.