The victories had come like products off an assembly line, one after another, becoming almost commonplace. Their ease made the end all the more abrupt.
Mater Dei High defeated Buena, 48-40, Saturday night at the Pond in the Division I Southern California Regional final, preventing the Bulldogs from advancing to their first State championship game since 1984.
Buena (30-2) posted its second 30-victory season and won its fifth Southern Section championship in Coach Joe Vaughan's 21 years, but the season ended in a torrent of tears.
The Bulldogs defeated Mater Dei a week ago for the Southern Section Division I-A title, but improved defense by the Lady Monarchs and four fouls on Buena center Nicole Greathouse made for a different outcome Saturday.
"It's a shame it has to end," said Kori Sebek, a Buena senior guard and four-year starter. "I really felt we could do it."
Greathouse picked up her second, third and fourth fouls in a disastrous two-minute span early in the third quarter. Buena trailed, 27-19, moments later on Mater Dei guard Melody Peterson's layup.
The Bulldogs fought back, however, and eventually tied the score, 36-36, with 6 minutes 34 seconds to play. A three-point basket by Sebek, a layup by Stephanie Kinnear, a jump shot by Christie Erickson and a basket by freshman Kelly Murray during that surge marked the only time in the game Buena made shots in a cluster.
Peterson answered with a layup and Lori Hurlbut made a three-point shot to give Mater Dei (28-3) a 41-36 lead with five minutes to play. Hurlbut, a senior guard, made five three-pointers.
Meanwhile, Greathouse played tentatively, scoring seven points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
"I wasn't as aggressive in the fourth quarter because I didn't want to foul out," said Greathouse, who blocked two shots in the final 90 seconds of Buena's victory over Mater Dei a week ago. "I had to stand there while they dribble-drived right past me."
Peterson, who like Greathouse played the fourth quarter with four fouls, scored 19 points and Hurlbut had 17. No Buena player scored in double figures; Erickson and Ashley Jackson each had eight.
Vaughan consoled his players by reminding them of their accomplishments since guard Eboni Conley was lost for the season with a knee injury Feb. 1.
"This was a tremendous year for us," Vaughan said. "Especially with the adversity we faced. You have to give the kids credit. They really stepped up. If anybody else lost an All-State guard, they wouldn't have gotten this far."