When Jeffra Gausepohl moved from Pennsylvania and enrolled at Palos Verdes High last spring, it was considered a coup for the girls' basketball team.
After all, Gausepohl stands 6 foot 5.
She may have looked even taller Saturday to the Lompoc Braves.
With Gausepohl scoring a game-high 21 points and pulling down eight rebounds, Palos Verdes dominated play inside and defeated Lompoc, 63-43, in the Southern Regional Division III title game at the Sports Arena.
The Sea Kings (31-2) will make their second appearance in a state final at 9:30 a.m. Saturday when they meet Northern California champion Healdsburg (30-4), a 62-58 winner over Sacramento St. Francis, at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. Palos Verdes lost in the 1988 Division II championship game in Oakland.
If Gausepohl plays anything like she has in the past two weeks, it might be a more successful trip to the Bay Area this time.
Saturday's game marked the second time in a week that the junior center outplayed Nicki Manzo, Lompoc's highly regarded 6-5 senior center. Manzo finished with nine points before fouling out with 6:34 left to play. Last weekend, Gausepohl outscored Manzo, 15-14, as Palos Verdes captured the Southern Section Division III-AA title with a 69-36 victory.
A strong postseason has represented the highlight of the season for Gausepohl, who was an all-district player in Kennett Square, Pa., last year but needed time to mature and adapt to the more competitive style of play in Southern California.
"The school that I came from was really small, and I knew it was going to be a better program when I came out here," she said. "I didn't know it was going to be this good.
"At first I was surprised how good it was. A lot of people told me 'Oh, you're going to California, they don't do anything.' I came out here and I've never played so much basketball in my life. I never thought we'd be playing for a state championship until the season started. Then I was like, 'We can do it.' "
As usual, the Sea Kings did it with a balanced effort.
Along with Gausepohl, 6-3 junior Monique Morehouse and 5-10 freshman Mimi McKinney helped Palos Verdes control the middle and neutralize Lompoc's two big girls--Manzo and 6-1 freshman Kimberly Wuest. The Braves finished 24-4.
Palos Verdes Coach Wendell Yoshida said it was his team's plan to attack the inside and try and get Manzo in foul trouble.
"That was always the plan," he said. "If it wasn't Jeffra, it was Monique, or it was one of our forwards driving the ball to the middle of their defense."
Gausepohl went to work quickly, scoring Palos Verdes' first 10 points. She finished the first half with 16 points on seven-of-12 shooting as the Sea Kings opened a 29-19 lead.
The game, which was Palos Verdes' closest in seven playoff contests, turned into a rout early in the third quarter as the Sea Kings opened a 42-21 lead with a 13-2 spurt. Morehouse, who was scoreless in the first half, scored all eight of her points during the run.
"We got our (fast)break going in the second half and that opened everything up," Yoshida said. "We started the game a little tentative on offense."
Morehouse, who had a team-high nine rebounds, said the memory of last season's narrow loss to Brea-Olinda in the regional final wasn't a factor. She is the only returning starter from last season's team.
"I didn't really think about that," Morehouse said. "We have such a better team this year. I just had a feeling that we were going to make it this far."
Lompoc Coach Sherm Hansen, whose team isn't used to being pushed around, said the Braves were fatigued after playing their fourth road game in a week. Lompoc has not been home since playing Thursday at Santana High of Santee in San Diego County.
"We felt we had a chance coming in here," Hansen said. "I think the fatigue factor caught up with us all at once. Emotionally we were drained, mentally we were drained and physically we were drained. We want to go home and get in our own sacks."
Hansen, though, acknowledged that Palos Verdes has a special team, even more so when you consider that its starting lineup consists of four juniors and a freshman.
McKinney, a ninth-grader, had 12 points and five rebounds.
"(Yoshida) has an excellent ballclub," Hansen said. "He'll have a dynasty going for the next couple of years."
Yoshida has heard such talk before. Yet, he never underestimates an opponent. He's looking forward to a tough game Saturday with the Northern California champion.
"I respect every team that we play," he said. "I think the Northern California teams are very capable. They'll be playing at home, where they have a reputation of doing very well. The thing they may not have is the size and balance we have."
Few teams do. Palos Verdes' only losses this season were to Morningside and Berkeley, last season's State Division I finalists.