Four get CIF state invitation

There are four area teams that are experiencing the thrill of the CIF State Basketball Championships for the first time, while another has become a regular in the postseason competition.

Although no local programs were able to capture a CIF Southern Section championship this season, three girls’ teams reached the semifinals in their respective divisions and one boys’ squad advanced to a division final.

The quartet will be in action today for first-round games in the state playoffs.

The Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ squad is making its fourth straight appearance in the state tournament. The No. 5-seeded Guards (23-8) will play at 7 p.m. at home against No. 12 Los Angeles Baptist in a Division IV Southern California Regional opener.

The Guards won their fifth straight Santa Cruz League championship this season and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA semifinals to Gardena Serra, 71-54.

Bell-Jeff has been led by senior All-CIF standouts Rishonda Napier and Jasmine Smith.

L.A. Baptist fell to Campbell Hall, 67-48, in the Division IV-A semifinals.

Also earning a home game is the Providence girls’ squad. The Pioneers (25-5), who are seeded fifth, will host No. 12 Rock Academy (18-10) from San Diego at 3:15 p.m. in a Division V game.

The Pioneers won their second straight Liberty League title and made a first-ever appearance in the CIF Southern Section semifinals, losing the Division V-AA game to Villanova Prep, 48-35.

Providence has solid players in junior Bea Benedicto and freshman Katia Dabbaghian.

Rock Academy was defeated in the San Diego Section Division V semifinals to Ocean View Christian, 56-42.

The most challenging opening game belongs to the Burbank girls’ team. The No. 16 Bulldogs (19-12) have to travel to top-seeded Mater Dei (33-3) for a Division I game at 6 p.m.

Burbank finished second in the Pacific League and made its first appearance in a CIF Southern Section semifinal game, losing to Summitt, 72-49.

The Bulldogs spread the scoring around with seniors Damarie Gonzalez and Sylvia Granados and juniors Aja Locke and Jamie Gonzalez.

Mater Dei is a powerhouse that is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 3 in the nation by maxpreps.com. The Monarchs defeated Brea Olinda, 54-47, Friday to capture the I-AA championship.

“It’s an honor for us to be in the state playoffs and we have absolutely nothing to lose,” Burbank Coach Bruce Breeden said. “We’ll go out and play hard and learn from the experience. We sort of knew that we were probably going to have to play the No. 1 team, so that’s not a real big surprise to us.”

The Providence boys will also be on the road, as the No. 13 Pioneers (26-5) will take on No. 4 Mission Prep (23-6) of San Luis Obispo in a 7 p.m. Division V matchup.

The Pioneers might still be feeling the sting of losing Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division IV-A final to Liberty League foe, Holy Martyrs, 65-62, in overtime. It was the program’s first trip to the championship game after not getter further than the quarterfinals prior to this season.

Providence has talented players in freshman Marcus LoVett Jr. and senior Patrick Gonzalez.

Mission Prep fell to St. Bernard, 60-57, in the V-AA semifinals.

“It’s been a historical season for Providence basketball,” said Pioneers girls’ Coach Andrew Bencze, who is also the school’s athletic director. “It was the first time for the boys to make it to the CIF championship and first time in the state playoffs, and it was the first time the girls made the semifinals and first time in the state playoffs.”

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