Esperanza Is Last Team Standing


So who’s No. 1?

That was the buzz in the Edison High gymnasium in the aftermath of the Orange County Championship on Saturday, a tournament in which no team escaped unscathed.

Esperanza, ranked fourth in the county, defeated second-ranked San Clemente, 66-58, in the championship game.

A night earlier, in a semifinal, Esperanza defeated top-ranked Troy.


Of course, the Aztecs needed a tiebreaker advantage just to get into the championship semifinals because of its loss in pool play to Laguna Hills.

“It’s kind of weird winning a tournament after losing the first game,” said Esperanza’s Bethany Blair, who scored 10 points, five in the first quarter.

Mary Mulligan, San Clemente’s coach, just shook her head afterward.

“No one got out of here alive,” she said. “There’s definite parity. I don’t think there is any No. 1 team right now because every team goes through peaks and valleys.”


Eight teams that have been in the county’s top 10, seven of them currently ranked, were in the 12-team tournament. Notably absent were third-ranked Brea Olinda and No. 7 Woodbridge.

And Esperanza was the decisive winner despite a 51-41 loss to unranked Laguna Hills, a team that considered not even participating.

“Anybody who’s well-coached can beat another opponent any given day,” Esperanza Coach Marc Hill said. “Twenty years ago, there were five good teams and it was a joke. Now, there’s 15.”

Esperanza’s victory was the first in three tries this season against San Clemente (12-2). The Aztecs (11-4) lost 52-47 in the opener, and 59-55 in the championship of the University tournament.


But they got even behind the play of Ashley Van Kurin, the tournament most valuable player. She scored 20 points and had six in the first quarter as Esperanza built a 15-7 lead. San Clemente made only two of 10 field-goal attempts in the quarter against Esperanza’s 2-3 zone defense--the same one Laguna Hills used to defeat the Aztecs--and also committed eight of its 15 first-half turnovers.

“After that, we were fine,” said Mulligan, whose team got no closer than four points in the second half.

Lindsey Helvey, another all-tournament selection, scored 16 for Esperanza. Lindsey Pluimer had 19 points and nine rebounds for San Clemente.

In the third-place game:


No. 6 Irvine 59, No. 1 Troy 44--The Vaqueros never trailed, opening a 22-point lead in the third quarter. Irvine (10-4) shot 55.8% from the field, making 24 of 43 shots. Troy shot 42.3% (18 of 42) and played without all-county guard Veronica Johns-Richardson. “She probably shouldn’t have played [Friday] because of the flu,” Troy Coach Kevin Kiernan said. “But we were determined to play more people.”

It was the second consecutive loss for Troy (10-4), and Kiernan is beside himself wondering what’s going on.

“I don’t mind the losses, but we need to play with more desire,” he said. “We’re a little casual . . . we don’t have anything to be casual about.”

In consolation games:


No. 5 Rosary 53, No. 10 Foothill 38--Rosary (12-4) stopped its second two-game losing streak, getting 11 points apiece from Jen Farner and Jennie Asensio. Foothill (8-6), without Kristen Mann, scored 20 in the fourth quarter, and got 11 points from Jenna Horton.

Huntington Beach 50, No. 8 Edison 43--The Oilers (8-5) outscored Edison, 10-2, in the last 4 1/2 minutes, with Amy Sanders scoring six of her game-high 27 points.

Laguna Hills 51, Riverside North 43--Brooke Bartelson (10-6) scored scored 15 as Laguna Hills won its third game of the tournament.