BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — The playoffs started about as well as could be expected for the Bellarmine-Jefferson girls' basketball team.
The fourth-seeded Guards hosted their first-round CIF Southern Section Division III-A matchup with La Habra of the Freeway League, and won in convincing — and intimidating — fashion.
And while Bell-Jeff Coach Jaclyn Johnson knows future rounds are not expected to come close to the 84-36 score Thursday night, the confidence and focus is there for the Guards to make a deep run.
"This was a good win; we're trying to build momentum," said Johnson, whose squad has won nine straight games after winning the Santa Cruz League championship with an undefeated record. "The girls have a list of goals and we want to get them all."
The win puts the Guards into a second-round game at 7 p.m. today. Bell-Jeff will travel to Irvine to take on Northwood (17-10), which finished fourth in the Pacific Coast League. The Timberwolves defeated Rancho Alamitos, 47-45, in their playoff opener Thursday.
The Guards (21-6) are no strangers to deep postseason runs, as the program reached the semifinals last season and won the state championship in 2009.
This season's run looks poised to follow recent tradition after the rout of the visiting Highlanders.
Bell-Jeff led throughout the contest and set the tone early, scoring the first 10 points of the game while holding La Habra to three first-quarter points.
While the Guards brought a winning streak into the postseason, La Habra was going the other way, having lost seven of its last eight games.
Thus expectedly, Bell-Jeff was too much for La Habra (13-14) on both sides of the ball Thursday night. Balanced scoring complemented a tough Bell-Jeff defense that had the Highlanders struggling to take care of the ball. The defense also led to La Habra taking low-percentage shots during the handful of possessions that didn't end in turnovers.
The Highlanders didn't shoot well, but received 16 of their 36 points from the charity stripe, with Amy Wilborn and Katie Heard setting the pace to finish with a team-high 10 points apiece.
But the game was all Bell-Jeff, and the victory was well in hand when the Guards went on a 13-0 run in the second period, jumping to a 41-7 advantage with all signs pointing to advancing.
The onslaught continued in the third quarter where the Guards outscored the Highlanders, 29-16, and led by as many as 50 points in the fourth.
"We were focused, ready to play, knew what needed to be done, and in the end we got the win," said Bell-Jeff forward Jasmine Smith, who played on the state-title team and let her experience be known as she led the team in scoring with 21 points. "The energy level, and confidence level is up there with what we're trying to do."
Smith was aided in the scoring department by Leslie Lopez-Wood's 17 points. She also made three three-pointers.
Bell-Jeff moved up in divisions this season from Division IV-A to Division III-A, essentially meaning tougher competition. Johnson, however, knows her team is capable of winning four more games.
"We have to play every night and bring it every night," she said.