Mater Dei Escapes When Shot Falls Short

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Rancho Bernardo forward Dawn Halfaker's running three-pointer at the buzzer hung in the air, Mater Dei's season hung with it. Halfaker's shot bounded off the back of the rim and fell to the floor and Mater Dei had a 59-57 victory over Rancho Bernardo on Thursday in the Southern California Regional semifinals.

But you get the feeling Mater Dei Coach Mary Hauser would have been able to live with herself if Halfaker's shot had fallen.

"We're lucky to win," Hauser said. "The grace of God is why we won, I think. They deserved to win as much as we did."

Maybe more.

Mater Dei was taken out of its game by Rancho Bernardo's pressing defense that forced the Monarchs to commit 27 turnovers.

"Having never seen them play, I think the coaching staff was wondering if they could run with us," Hauser said. "It turned out they were better at it than us."

Melody Peterson, who had a team-high 17 points but also an uncharacteristic five turnovers, wasn't quite sure what hit her.

"I underrated their press a lot," Peterson said. "I did not expect their press to be that tough. I didn't expect them to be that tough. I left my feet a couple times and I think I tried to do too much."

Rancho Bernardo trailed the entire game--including by 10 at halftime--but the Broncos never lost sight of Mater Dei. And they never appeared intimidated by the Mater Dei mystique, even though they played much of the game with two freshmen and a sophomore.

"Sarah Wilkins [a freshman point guard] doesn't know who Melody Peterson is," Rancho Bernardo Coach Peggy Brose said. "I don't think she'd be intimidated if Michael Jordan was out here. She's young and she takes it as a challenge."

Wilkins had 10 points, nine assists, five steals and outplayed Peterson for much of the second half. Rancho Bernardo (25-6), the San Diego Section champion, trailed, 44-34, early in the third quarter but closed to 48-45 after three quarters thanks to a swarming press.

The Broncos closed to within one point on three occasions. With Mater Dei clinging to a 56-55 lead, Peterson missed a jump shot but rebounded a loose ball underneath and made a layup to make it 58-55 with 1:20 left.

A Wilkins layup with 10 seconds left made it 58-57. Rancho Bernardo then fouled Peterson, who missed both free throws. Rhonda Gondringer (14 points, 11 rebounds) was fouled after grabbing the rebound and made one of two free throws with four seconds left. Halfaker then dribbled upcourt and launched her running one-hander at the buzzer.

"I kind of thought it might go," Halfaker said. "But I can't complain. Everyone did their best. We came in here thinking a lot of these girls are superstars with full rides [scholarships] everywhere. But we proved we could play with them and we turned out to be almost as good as they were."

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