BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — With two of its starters and leading scorers knocked sidelined with injuries, it would have been a perfect time for the Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ basketball team to fold.
It had a legitimate excuse.
However, instead of packing it in, the Guards battled and held down the fort until the injured players were able to return.
The effort helped No. 1-seeded Bell-Jeff notch a 66-59 victory against No. 5 Fresno Christian Thursday in a regional semifinal game of the CIF State Basketball Division V Championships.
“This is a team that has trust in what we do and trust in each- other’s abilities,” Bell-Jeff Coach Bryan Camacho said. “When a player goes down, we’re not going to change a thing; we just keep on competing, keep on fighting and keep on battling.”
The win was significant for a variety of reasons. The victory put the Guards into the state regional championship, something no other team from any of the city’s schools has been able to do — girls or boys.
It also extended the team’s winning streak to 18 and extended its record to 32-1. Bell-Jeff is just one win away from tying the school record for victories in a season.
The Guards will take part in the regional final at 1 p.m. today at Cal State Fullerton. Bell-Jeff will take on No. 3 Los Angeles View Park Prep from the L.A. City Section.
View Park (28-8) advanced to the game by winning its second-round state playoff game Thursday against No. 7 Santa Clara, 53-49.
Camacho said he has film of View Park and the team is talented.
“They are very athletic and they have a lot of speed,” Camacho said. “On offense, they like to push the ball up and on defense they like to pressure teams. It’s going to be a very interesting game.
“But our girls are excited and they are ready to go.”
The Guards have had to focus on the state playoffs after winning the CIF Southern Section Division VA championship March 6. It was only the school’s second title and first in 12 years.
The Guards came out focused in the first quarter against Fresno Christian (22-7). Bell-Jeff received six points from Rishonda Napier and five from senior Shelley Gupilan to take a 21-12 lead.
Bell-Jeff — with no player taller than 5 feet 10 — was able to naturalize the Eagles’ 6-4 center Paige Armstrong-Maltos, who had just two points and two rebounds in the first quarter.
Fresno Christian came on in the second quarter, going on a 12-0 run to end the stanza to whittle the lead down to 31-26.
The Guards were just three of 19 from the floor in the second.
Bell-Jeff lost the services of Gupilan in the final minute of the second quarter when she sustained an injury to her back.
More adversity hit one minute into the third quarter when Napier went down with an injury to her right knee.
While the two were out, the Guards maintained their advantage and played well.
“They did a great job keeping us in the game,” Camacho said. “It was a great effort.”
Both players returned in the third quarter.
Napier poured in 21 points and had five steals. Shelley Gupilan had 16 and Margeaux Gupilan added 11.
The Bell-Jeff defense did a fine job badgering the Fresno Christian ballhandlers, causing 22 turnovers in the game.
“We take pride in our defense and we like to contest everything,” Camacho said. “