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Palmisano, Lancers Down Buena, 67-57 : Prep basketball: Thousand Oaks wins first girls’ title behind junior guard’s game-high 24 points, nine rebounds.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Somehow, mild-mannered Thousand Oaks High guard Michelle Palmisano even manages to hide her emotions during such gut-wrenchers as the Southern Section I-A Division championship game Friday night at UC Irvine’s Bren Center.

When Palmisano turns the ball over, as she did twice during key possessions in the fourth quarter, she doesn’t fret. And, when she dribbles into trouble, then calmly banks a 15-foot jump shot off the glass, she doesn’t even smile.

But after the final horn sounded in Thousand Oaks’ 67-57 win over Buena before a crowd of 1,150, Palmisano suddenly expressed herself as easily as Madonna.

She pumped her right fist high in the air, extending her index finger even higher. Not once, but twice. And it was no coincidence that she was facing the Buena bench when doing so.

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Palmisano’s sister, Teresa, led Buena to the 4-A final in 1987. After a dispute between Palmisano’s father and Buena Coach Joe Vaughan, Michelle decided to attend Thousand Oaks instead of Buena. The move prompted an investigation by the Southern Section office, which concluded no infraction had occurred.

But the wounds never completely healed.

So which was sweeter? The fact that Palmisano had game-highs of 24 points and nine rebounds in leading Thousand Oaks to its first title? That she became Ventura County’s all-time leading scorer with 1,939 points, eclipsing the previous mark of 1,927 by Camarillo’s Nichole Victoria?

Or was it the victory over Buena (25-3) and Vaughan, that old friend of the family?

Her choice was clear.

“Beating Buena makes it that much sweeter,” said a smiling Palmisano, who scored 15 points in the second half and made 13 of 15 free throws. “There’s no doubt about it.”

When it became Good Grief time for Chuck Brown, the Lancers’ coach, Palmisano came to the rescue.

Buena, making its seventh appearance in a final under Vaughan, cut a nine-point deficit to 56-53 with 3 minutes 6 seconds left and Palmisano turned the ball over on Thousand Oaks’ next possession.

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But she then intercepted a Buena pass and fed Sasha Scardino (11 points), who was fouled and hit two free throws to extend Thousand Oaks’ lead to 58-53. When Lianne Ishikawa (12 points) hit two free throws to again pull Buena within three, Palmisano added her 15-foot shot off the glass.

Palmisano, however, wasn’t the only weapon for Thousand Oaks (28-3). After Jennifer Wells (13 points) hit a follow shot that pulled Buena to within 60-57 with 1:20 left, Scardino hit the front end of a one-and-one that extended Thousand Oaks’ lead to 61-57 with 51 seconds left.

When Scardino missed the second shot, teammate Melissa Wood grabbed the rebound and was fouled. After Wood missed the front end of a one-and-one, Scardino grabbed the rebound and put the game out of reach with two free throws that extended the lead to 63-57 with 33 seconds left.

“All of our girls worked very hard,” Brown said. “Michelle is a very, very key person to us. But this team plays with a lot of togetherness.”

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Buena, which lost its second consecutive title game and fifth in seven tries, was hampered when its top two players, Ishikawa and Mia Palkie, each picked up three fouls in the first half. Palkie, the team’s leading scorer, had seven points on one-of-10 shooting.


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