Bellarmine-Jefferson girls’ basketball runs into CIF semifinals

SANTA CLARITA — Members of the Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' basketball team take pride that no opponent is going to wear them down and outrun them on the court.

The Guards have good reason to be confident in that aspect taking into consideration that four players were also on the school's cross-country team that won a league championship and advanced to state competition last fall.

It was a lethal transition game, coupled with another excellent defensive effort that helped the No. 1 Guards defeat Trinity Classical Academy, 44-23, Wednesday in a CIF Southern Section Division V-A quarterfinal game at The Masters University.

"Whenever we get the ball, we want to run. We try and get down the court as fast as we can and that is tough for the other team," Bell-Jeff's Cosette Balmy said. "And once we start, we never stop. We want to keep going and keep it up for the whole game.

"We know that we are going to be quicker than most of the teams out there. Running is something that really gets us going."

For the second straight season, Bell-Jeff (23-3) advanced to the CIF semifinals. The Guards will travel to Bermuda Dunes to take on No. 4 Desert Christian Academy on Saturday. Desert Christian (23-5), runner-up in the Victory League, defeated California Military Institute, 56-33, Wednesday.

Bell-Jeff, which has won 17 straight games, advanced to the Division VI title game in 2016.

Balmy, a junior, paced the Guards with 13 points to go along with six steals and five rebounds. Junior Claire Borot had a monster game with 10 points, 17 rebounds, eight steals and five blocks and sophomore Dalila Rincan chipped in with eight points, nine rebounds and five steals. Balmy, Borot and Rincan were all members of the Guards' cross-country team.

Along with setting the pace, Santa Fe League champion Bell-Jeff frustrated Trinity (14-9), the third-place team from the Heritage League, with its defense that led to 30 turnovers.

"Thank the Lord upstairs for our defense," Bell-Jeff Coach Claudia Villa said. "Offensively, we played, and I'm not going to use bad words, horrible. If it wasn't for our defense, we wouldn't have scored as many points as we did.

"Throughout our whole, entire season we've stressed defense. That is one of our strengths. But one of our weaknesses is when we want to slow the tempo, we don't know quite how to do that. That is something that we've been working on for quite awhile now."

The Guards took advantage of a long dry spell and poor shooting by the Saints to take control of the game early in the first quarter.

Trinity took a 4-0 lead following a basket by junior Kaitlyn Brooks with 6:18 remaining. The Guards missed their first six shots from the field in the first and also committed three turnovers, which led to the Knights' early lead.

"The way we started out in that first quarter, that just didn't look like us," Villa said. "We had to get things together and start playing Bell-Jeff basketball."

After the initial four points, Bell-Jeff completely shut down Trinity for almost two quarters. The Guards, who forced 11 turnovers in the opening stanza, outscored the Knights, 16-0, the rest of the way to take a 16-4 lead after one.

The Bell-Jeff dominance continued in the second quarter. Trinity missed all 10 of its shots from the field in the stanza and the Guards won the quarter, 11-0, and entered halftime with a 27-4 lead.

Trinity's dry spell continued into the third quarter, as Bell-Jeff's scoring run went to 30 points. The Knights were finally able to score with 6:35 remaining to break a scoreless string of 15 minutes, 43 seconds.

Outscored in the third, 14-10, the Guards took a 19-point lead into the fourth quarter, 37-18.