BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — For the second straight season, the Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' basketball team was granted a second life.
Last season, the Guards fell in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, only to get an invitation to the state playoffs.
Again this year, Bell-Jeff was knocked out of the Southern Section postseason in the semifinals. And yet again, the team earned a berth into state competition.
The Guards made the most of their opportunity Tuesday, coming on in the fourth quarter to earn a 76-48 victory against Reseda in the first round of the CIF State Girls' Division III Basketball Championship at Bell-Jeff.
Bell-Jeff (23-7) — ranked No. 5 in the Southern California Bracket — also won its state opener last season, defeating Corcoran, 76-55. However, the team fell to Harvard-Westlake in the Southern California quarterfinals, 61-59.
The win puts Bell-Jeff into the regional quarterfinals against host Bonita. The game will be at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Guards struggled to find their rhythm over the course of the first three quarters.
"I knew that was going to happen," Bell-Jeff Coach Jaclyn Johnson said. "We have been off for about a week and a half and that's what happens when you don't play for a while."
Jasmine Smith paced Bell-Jeff, despite spending the entire second quarter on the bench with foul trouble. She ended up with 20 points. Teammate Leslie Lopez-Wood added 17 points to go along with four steals and Rishonda Napier had 12 points.
The Guards looked in control of the game in the first quarter, going on a 16-0 run to lead Reseda (19-9), 16-2. But the Regents battled back, getting to within six after one quarter, 22-16.
Bell-Jeff converted just two of 17 shots from the field in the second quarter, and as a result, Reseda closed the lead to 28-26 at the half.
Entering the fourth quarter with just a six-point lead, the Guards were finally able to come on in the fourth, embarking on an 18-2 run to start the stanza.
"It was just a matter of them finding themselves in that fourth quarter," Johnson said. "Plus, I really laid into them at halftime."
Smith made her presence known in the second half, scoring 14 points in the third and fourth quarters.
"With Jasmine on the bench, that was a perfect opportunity for other players to step up," Johnson said. "But they didn't."