Tragedy Spoils Buena's Victory Over Palmdale

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The winner, the loser, who moves on in state tournament play and who doesn't, all of that was obscured Thursday night by the apparent heart attack suffered by Arleigh McConnell, Buena High's first principal.

McConnell, who rarely missed a girls' basketball game since retiring in 1980 after 21 years as principal, was stricken in the stands with less than three minutes to play in the Bulldogs' 52-46 victory over Palmdale in a Division I semifinal of the Southern California Regional before 1,200 at Buena. The Bulldogs will play Mater Dei on Saturday.

The game was delayed for a half-hour while paramedics administered CPR and electric shock to McConnell as he lay across the court from the teams' benches. He was transported to Ventura Community Memorial Hospital, where he died.

McConnell hired Joe Vaughan, the Buena coach, and Vaughan had the difficult task of watching his mentor being wheeled out on a stretcher, then having to gather his team together and play the final 2 minutes 4 seconds.

"I have great affection for him, he was a great educator and he gave me my first opportunity," Vaughan said. "This has been a tough year."

Vaughan's father, Grady, died in October, and the Buena coach of 21 years has dedicated the season to him. The season has been one of his team's best, winning the Southern Section Division I-A championship and playing for the Southern California Regional title Saturday at the Pond in Anaheim.

Buena led, 50-41, when the game was delayed, but Palmdale pulled close with two free throws by Kristi Rose and a three-point basket by Casey Bledsoe with one minute to play to cut the margin to 50-46.

Buena (30-1) held the ball for 30 seconds and after a Palmdale miss, Buena center Nicole Greathouse was fouled and made two free throws with eight seconds to play.

Palmdale (29-4), the Southern Section Division I-AA runner-up, led most of the first half before Greathouse made a 12-foot jump shot with 12 seconds to play in the second quarter to tie the score, 27-27.

Rose, a 6-foot-4 senior who will attend Utah, scored seven in the first quarter, but only six more thereafter.

Buena employed a half-court trap defense in the third quarter and took a 40-31 lead. Palmdale made only one of 15 shots in the quarter.

A key for Buena was freshman guard Kelly Murray, who was promoted from the junior varsity after the regular season. Murray scored eight points, including five in a row midway through the fourth quarter that gave the Bulldogs a 47-36 lead.

Palmdale Coach George Corisis acknowledged that Buena's defensive adjustments slowed his team, but he blamed the loss on the officiating.

"Those referees were not qualified to call a State championship game," Corisis said. "We are just as good as Buena. This should have been a one-point game. We were taken out of the game by their defense--and by the referees."

Judging by Vaughan's response to several calls, he didn't like the officiating any better. But he made it clear to his players at halftime that they--not the officials--were responsible for the outcome.

"I told the kids we can't worry about the calls, they balance out," he said.

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