Morningside High will return to an old stomping ground--the State Basketball Championship in Oakland--after defeating Clovis West of Fresno, 52-40, Saturday night at the Sports Arena to win its fourth consecutive Southern Regional Division I girls' title.
But first-year Lady Monarch Coach Ron Randle will be treading on new terrain, and he made no effort to conceal his enthusiasm.
"This is old news to them, but I'm pretty excited," he said. "I'm glad to be standing in this spot, the winner's circle. I owe it all to the ladies.
"I still think we haven't played our perfect game yet. Maybe that (will come) in Oakland."
Morningside (32-2) will play in its fourth consecutive State Division I championship game at 4:45 p.m. Saturday against Northern California champion Berkeley (29-2), which defeated San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 69-53, Saturday.
The Lady Monarchs, going for their third consecutive title, beat Berkeley in last season's state final and again in December in the title game of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions.
Berkeley figures to provide a tougher challenge than Morningside met Saturday. Clovis West (26-3) played a spirited game, but proved no match for the taller, stronger Lady Monarchs.
Morningside held a staggering 67-28 edge in rebounds and continually worked its way inside for baskets.
Center Janet Davis, a 6-foot-4 junior, led the Lady Monarchs with 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter after aggravating a hip injury she sustained in Thursday night's semifinal victory over Chino at Morningside.
"She's hurtin', but she played like a winner tonight," Randle said.
Davis received plenty of help from her teammates. Forward Tina Thompson, a 6-2 sophomore, scored 12 points and pulled down a career-high 23 rebounds, and senior point guard Princess Murray had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Morningside struggled early, making only nine of 29 shots (28%) in the first half, but managed to maintain a lead thanks to Davis (14 points, 12 rebounds). Bridgett Williams' three-point shot at the buzzer gave the Lady Monarchs a 26-19 halftime advantage.
Clovis West stayed within striking range until the fourth quarter, when Morningside opened with a 7-0 run to take a 48-33 lead with 4:37 remaining. Thompson scored four points during the stretch, and Clovis West never drew closer than 10 thereafter.
Randle, former co-coach of the Morningside boys' basketball team with Carl Franklin, said he was concerned with the shooting of Clovis West guard Kristi Fulton, who made five three-point shots when Morningside beat the Golden Eagles, 56-51, in the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions.
This time, Fulton was 0 for 4 from three-point range and finished with only four points.