Time for some true confessions from the Christian High Patriots.
Despite a best-ever season and a first-ever San Diego Section girls' title, the Patriots never really envisioned themselves playing for the state championship.
They can now. They must now.
Saturday afternoon, Christian pulled off a stunning, yet relatively easy, upset of top-seeded San Luis Obispo Mission Prep to win the Southern California Regional Division V championship at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Christian never trailed en route to the 62-51 final that earned the Patriots a trip to Oakland for Friday's state championship against the Northern California Regional winner.
"We had joked about it during the season," junior forward Jenny Culbertson said. "But I never thought we would actually go to Oakland . . . or even come this far."
Said junior forward Tiffany Stutz, "Deep down inside, I didn't really plan on going to Oakland."
Nonetheless, Christian (24-4) is going. And it has Culbertson and Stutz most to thank, though this was a fine team effort.
Stutz, Christian's all-time leading scorer, had a game-high 25 points, making nine of 20 shots and seven of 11 free throws. Nine of those points came after Mission, which won this title two years ago, pulled to within one, 40-39, with 1:36 left in the third quarter. They also came after Stutz aggravated an old ankle injury and noticeably limped the rest of the game.
Culbertson had what she called her best overall game ever with 13 points, nine rebounds, four assists, the only three blocks of the game and two steals.
Despite foul trouble, senior center Stacey Patsko, the Patriots' leading rebounder, grabbed a team-high 10. Freshman guard Jennifer Jeremiah (seven points, eight rebounds, four assists) and sophomore guard Diana DeGrenier (five rebounds, four assists) also had solid games.
Christian used an 11-0 run to go up, 19-11, early in the second quarter. The Patriots led, 34-29, at the half, and, 46-41, at the end of three quarters.
Mission, whose offense is dictated by whomever has the ball, pulled to within three, 52-49, with 4:12 left, but the Patriots finished with a 10-2 run.
Four Mission starters had three fouls by halftime and the fifth had zero points. The three best Royals--junior Amy Taylor (20 points), sophomore Nece Bonds (15 points, 11 rebounds) and senior center Kim Deines (four points, eight rebounds)--eventually fouled out in the game's final minute.
By then, though, it mattered little. Christian, using a full-court pressure defense throughout, forced 21 turnovers and limited Mission (23-6) to a .294 (20 of 68) shooting percentage. Christian shot 47% (24 of 51).
Must have been quite an inspiring pregame speech by Christian Coach Ken Weeks right?
Hardly. Weeks lost his voice during No. 3 Christian's 43-40 semifinal upset at No. 2 Strathmore on Thursday.
He was unable to say much at all, but afterward his smile spoke volumes.
It had "I can't believe we're going to Oakland" all over it.