PLAYA DEL REY — In many ways, Saturday evening represented the end of an era for the Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ basketball team.
The visiting Guards saw their CIF State Division IV aspirations halted in the second round by a taller and quicker St. Bernard squad, 65-51.
The defeat concluded No. 5-seeded Bell-Jeff’s season record at 24-9 and capped the careers of four seniors in guard Rishonda Napier and forwards Jasmine Smith, Marilyn Flynn and Averie Guzman.
Over the last four years in which Napier, Smith and Guzman played together, the Guards captured four straight Santa Cruz League titles, won 103 games and claimed both a CIF Southern Section Division VA title and CIF State Division V championship in 2009.
“This season meant everything to me, it was my senior year,” said Napier, a McDonalds’s All-American candidate who led the Guards with 18 points Saturday evening. “I’ve had a great four years at Bell-Jeff battling with Averie Guzman and Jasmine Smith.
“I’m sad to see it go, but I can’t be but happy of everything we’ve accomplished.”
Bell-Jeff trailed by as many as 21 points with 1:03 left in the third quarter as a layup from St. Bernard’s Cydney Bolton pushed the Vikings (27-8) ahead, 52-31.
The Guards, however, did not fold and responded with a quarter-closing three-pointer from Napier that kick-started a 7-0 run in which Bell-Jeff climbed within 52-38 after a free throw from Napier with 7:23 left in the fourth.
Both teams traded baskets until a free throw from the San Jose State-bound Smith closed Bell-Jeff’s deficit to 56-43 with 4:43 remaining.
Unfortunately for the Guards, they never sliced further into St. Bernard’s advantage and, in fact, fell behind, 62-44, after a three-pointer from Bolton with 1:50 remaining.
“It was hard going into the end because I knew that was the last time I would ever play with those girls,” said Guzman, who scored nine points. “The thought that this is over still hasn’t clicked yet. I’m still expecting to go to practice tomorrow.”
The game slipped away in a third quarter in which St. Bernard won, 22-12, and extended an eight-point halftime advantage into a 52-34 lead.
St. Bernard hit Bell-Jeff with a heavy dose of 6-foot-2 freshman center Lajahna Drummer, who scored eight of her game-high 20 points in the quarter.
In fact, Drummer netted three of the quarter’s first five baskets as the Vikings raced to a 38-24 advantage with 6:11 left on an inside bucket from Drummer.
Bell-Jeff last led in the game at the three-minute mark in the second quarter, 21-20, before the Vikings closed the first half with a 10-1 run.
Napier scored nine points in the first quarter to give the Guards a 15-13 advantage.
“You’re not going to win very many games when you shoot eight for 20 free throws and commit  turnovers. St. Bernard is athletic and we can’t give them any breaks,” said Guards Coach Jaclyn Johnson, who also serves as the school’s athletic director.
Johnson addressed her own speculated departure by saying, “I’m always going to be a Guard and I’m always going to be here. I don’t know if I’ll be here in the coaching capacity. That’s still a decision I have to make.”
Smith finished with 13 points and totaled seven of her team’s total 12 rebounds. St. Bernard’s had 34 rebounds.
“We’ll always have our names up on that banner with the championship. I think that’s what we’ll remember at Bell-Jeff,” Smith said. “We earned that and we’ll move on.”