Steals usually are a good measure of a basketball team’s defensive domination.
The Katella High School girls’ basketball team had 18 of them Tuesday night in its 56-39 victory over San Marcos in the first round of the Southern California Regional Division II playoffs in front of about 900 at Katella.
Katella plays Muir, which defeated Bakersfield North on Tuesday, in a semifinal game Thursday at Katella.
Katella’s full-court press and aggressive zone defense were so frustrating, San Marcos shot five airballs and turned the ball over 16 times in the first half.
San Marcos shot 27% from the field for the game. Katella shot 40%.
“Our strong point definitely is our defense,” Katella Coach Barb Bausch said. “If it’s not there, nothing else is going to be. We get pumped more when we can shut them down.”
Katella generates its offense from its defense and from guard Joni Easterly, who scored a school-record 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting.
She broke her record of 34 points set Thursday in the Knights’ 4-A championship victory over Muir.
Easterly, a senior who has signed to play for USC, has raised her game a level for the playoffs because she “feels she has to.”
“A lot of the girls don’t have as much experience so they get nervous,” she said. “I need to break the ice with my shooting. That is kind of my role.”
Said Bausch: “She’s definitely more intense (in the playoffs). She knows it’s do or die and any game could be her last, so she is always going to be up.”
Katella, which led, 12-11, after the first quarter, broke the game open in the second quarter with six unanswered points to lead, 18-11.
Susie O’Brien, the San Diego Section’s leading scorer averaging 29.9 points, started the quarter by turning the ball over as she was double-teamed on the baseline.
Katella’s Margaret Harker capitalized, scoring on a jumper. Then San Marcos’ Shantell Paopao shot back-to-back airballs.
Easterly scored a field goal then stole the ball seconds later to set up teammate Karen Jensen.
San Marcos did not make a field goal in the quarter and trailed 37-25 at the end of the quarter. O’Brien accounted for the team’s only points with eight free throws.
Katella increased its lead to as many as 20 points, 56-36, late in the fourth quarter.
O’Brien connected on 10 of 32 shots and scored 28 points, but 10 of those came in the fourth quarter with Katella’s lead already in double digits.
“The defense was tough,” O’Brien said. “I couldn’t do any baseline drives like I like to do. I couldn’t put the ball on the floor. It changed my rhythm.”