Our Lady of Grace High had a convenient excuse for the huge rebounding advantage the Newbury Park girls' basketball team enjoyed in its first round game of the Division III State playoffs.
Pilot center Susie Erpelding suffered a knee injury last Friday in the San Diego Section Division III championship game. Erpelding, who averaged almost 23 points a game, watched from the bench, unable to play against the Panthers Tuesday night.
But Our Lady of Grace had no answers for Julie Wastell.
Wastell triggered the Newbury Park fast break with six first- quarter steals, helping the Panthers to a 79-38 victory.
The top-seeded Panthers (29-1) will play host a Southern California Regional semifinal Thursday night against Bishop Montgomery, which the Panthers beat Saturday night for the Southern Section Division III-AA championship.
By the end of the first quarter, Newbury Park had opened a 25-9 lead and took control of the game, with Wastell exploiting freshman guard Jeannine Wisniew.
The fast-breaks led to several uncontested baskets for Wastell, who scored 15 points, and Jann Thorpe, who had 17.
Even when Newbury Park missed, 6-foot-1 center Kara McKeown had 14 points and 13 rebounds.
All three players were pulled from the game before the end of the third quarter, with Newbury Park ahead, 77-28.
"I don't think it really would have mattered if (Erpelding) had been there," McKeown said. "Our defense dictated the flow of the game right were we wanted it."
McKeown had almost twice as many rebounds as the Our Lady of Grace team after three quarters.