LA VERNE — Bellarmine-Jefferson High Coach Jaclyn Johnson knew exactly what to expect from Bonita.
Preparing for the state playoff girls’ basketball game, the coach was aware that the Bearcats possessed a powerful inside game with players who had a distinct height advantage. She knew their opponent had slashing guards who could power to the basket and she was well aware that Bonita had athletes who could drain the outside shot with regularity.
With all that knowledge, Johnson devised a game plan to hopefully neutralize the No. 4 Bearcats’ strengths in Thursday’s CIF State Division III Basketball Championships game. Unfortunately, the No. 5 Guards apparently didn’t stick to the script.
As a result, Bell-Jeff wavered down the stretch in the fourth quarter and fell, 67-52, in the second round of the Southern California Regional at Bonita.
“We knew exactly what they were going to do,” Johnson said of Bonita. “And they did exactly what we thought they were going to do. Unfortunately, we didn’t stick to what we were supposed to do. The kids just didn’t follow what we wanted them to do against this team, and that caused us problems.”
The loss ends another successful season for the Guards (23-8). Along with winning its fourth straight Santa Fe League championship, the team also advanced to the CIF Southern Section semifinals for the fourth year in a row.
Although Johnson acknowledges the accomplishments her team this season, she is not satisfied at how the campaign ended.
“We had a very good season,” she said. “But I think we had the talent to go further than we did. I’m not happy that we weren’t able to advance more in state.”
Bell-Jeff had the tough assignment of taking on a well-rounded Bonita (30-3) team. Along with losing just two games in the regular season, the Bearcats advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship game, losing to Orange Lutheran, 59-42.
Bonita Coach Darren Baumunk had high praise for Bell-Jeff.
“That is a very athletic team, top to bottom,” he said. “That is probably the most athletic team we’ve seen all season…They were tough.”
Bell-Jeff had trouble containing Bonita senior Madison Zylstra and freshman Nikki Wheatley. Zylstra had a game-high 22 points — including four three-pointers — and Wheatley added 17, many coming on driving layups.
After trailing for most of the first three quarters, Bell-Jeff went on an 11-0 run late in the third and finally took the lead with 1:43 left on a long three-pointer from junior Rishonda Napier. Napier led her team with 17 points — including four three-pointers.
The Bearcats battled back, however, finishing the quarter with a 47-43 lead.
“I was getting a little nervous, I’ll be honest,” Baumunk said of the Guards’ run. “I think what was crucial was that when they hit the basket to go ahead, we were able to come right back and score to go back ahead.”
The fourth quarter was disastrous for Bell-Jeff, as Bonita began with a 16-4 run to increase its lead to 65-47.
The Bearcats dominated the boards against Bell-Jeff. In the second quarter alone, as Bonita took a 33-24 lead at the half, the Guards were outrebounded, 12-3.
Leading the rebounding charge was 6-foot-3 Bonita center Brianna Kennedy, who had 12.
“I think [Bonita] probably had at least 20 offensive rebounds,” Johnson said. “They really killed us inside.”
Junior Jasmine Smith, who got into foul trouble in the first quarter, had 10 points for Bell-Jeff.