Three ready for challenge

The Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' basketball team is used to getting to this stage of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, as the Guards are mainstays in the quarterfinals.

For Providence, it is appearing in the quarterfinal round for only the second time in school history and the first since 2007.

Burbank is hoping to be the third area team to venture into the quarterfinals after easily winning its first-round game.

All three squads will be an action today in 7 p.m. games. The Pioneers have the only home game, as they will host Mesa Grande Academy in a Division IV-AA matchup. The Bulldogs will travel to Upland for their Division I-A contest and the Guards will be on the road against Chaminade in a Division IV-AA game.

Bell-Jeff (22-7), the five-time reigning Santa Cruz League champion and No. 6 seed, advanced to the quarterfinal round by defeating No. 11 Pasadena Poly, 68-54, in a second-round game Saturday at home.

"You look at the teams that still remain in Division IV-AA and I think any one of those teams could be a top-four finisher in almost all the other divisions," Bell-Jeff Coach Jaclyn Johnson. "That's who stacked our division is."

The Guards should have a tough test against the No. 3-seeded Eagles (24-4), the Mission League champions. Chaminade has won 13 of its last 14 games and has only lost to Alemany, Chandler (Arizona) and Oaks Christian.

In the playoffs, the Eagles have had easy victories against Santa Clara, 63-21, and No. 14 Sierra Canyon, 69-44 in the second round.

Chaminade is led by senior Annie Tarakchian and juniors Mi'Chael Wright and Robyn Brown. Tarakchian had 23 points and 20 rebounds in Saturday's win against Sierra Canyon.

The Guards counter with a pair of senior All-CIF Southern Section players in Jasmine Smith and Rishonda Napier, who are both four-year starters who helped lead Bell-Jeff to division and state championships as freshmen.

"On paper we match up well with them," Johnson said of Chaminade. "Height, length, experience and both of us have older teams. So, I think it's going to be good."

In the win against Pasadena Poly, Smith led the way, scoring 21 points and grabbing 21 rebounds.

The Guards, who have won 17 of their last 18 games, defeated Louisville, 70-41, in the first round.

The No. 3-seeded Pioneers (24-4) barely survived their second-round game, eventually pulling out a 42-40 victory at home against No. 14 Brethren Christian. Providence also was victorious in its playoff opener against Arrowhead Christian Academy, 54-45.

The Pioneers are keyed by juniors Bea Benedicto and Janel Adraneda, as well as freshman Katia Dabbaghian.

Providence won its third-straight Liberty League title this season.

Mesa Grande (24-1) is the division's No. 6 seed and its only loss came in a tournament against Loma Linda Academy, 39-37. Since that loss Dec. 29, the Cardinals have won 13 straight. The team also captured the Victory League championship.

In the playoffs, Mesa Grande has wins against California Military Institute, 53-17, and No. 11 Edwards AFB Desert, 50-44.

The Cardinals have been paced this season by junior Michaela Garcia and freshman Madison Price.

"It's kind of a problem because they are so far out of our area that we don't really have a feel for exactly how good they are," Providence Coach Andrew Bencze said of the Cardinals. "But I think we have an advantage in that this is our third home playoff game in a row."

The Pioneers are hoping to get starter Catherine Saint back soon after the senior injured her ankle during the team's final regular season game. But Bencze said he will not rush Saint back into the lineup until she's healed significantly.

Burbank (17-11 and Pacific League runner-up) had a good playoff opening Saturday, earning a 59-45 win at home against Fountain Valley. Senior Damarie Gonzalez led the way in the victory, scoring 17 points to go along with seven rebounds and four steals.

Burbank also has accomplished players in juniors Jamie Gonzalez, Courtney Seidler and Aja Locke.

The Bulldogs will be going up against an unseeded Upland team that scored a huge upset in its opener Saturday against No. 4 Corona Centennial, 67-64.

The Highlanders (13-8) received an at-large berth in the playoffs after finishing fourth in the Baseline League. Senior Ashley Carson and freshman Irie Stokes have been Upland's leading scorers this season.

"I was very surprised that Upland was able to win in the first round," said Burbank Coach Bruce Breeden, who is bringing his second team to the second round in his seven-year tenure.

"I'm real confident with our matchups; we should be pretty strong defensively. We also matchup size wise and we revamped out zone offense for them."

Wins by Bell-Jeff and Providence would put them into semifinal games Saturday. A Burbank win would put it into the quarterfinal round Saturday, as well.

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