The greatest individual scoring performance in the long and distinguished history of the Vanguard University women's basketball program became something of a footnote Friday night.
Despite a school-record 53 points from senior All-American and Golden State Athletic Conference Player of the Year Nicole Ballestero, the top-ranked Lions were upset, 80-76, by No. 17-ranked Hope International in the semifinals of the GSAC Tournament at Vanguard.
The Royals, who were edged by Vanguard, 80-79, at home on Feb. 22 for the closest call the Lions had during their previously unbeaten season, had the final surge in a game that featured 12 lead changes and eight ties.
The Fullerton-based school, which made 10 of 20 three-point attempts and shot 48.4% from the field, while holding Vanguard to 40.3% shooting (38.9 from threedom), broke a 73-73 deadlock with a 15-foot jumper by Krystyn Jacobs with 1:24 left. The Royals then held on to slay a Lions squad (26-1) that had defeated its first 26 foes by an average of nearly 29 points.
Ballestero, who made 18 of 35 field-goal tries, including 5 of 11 from three-point range, had made all 12 of her free throws before missing the second of two with 1:01 left to leave the Lions short, 75-74.
Brittany Bauman increased the Hope lead with a three-pointer with 44 seconds left, and Ballestero, who broke the previous mark of 45 points by Rachel Copeland, answered with a driving layup to pull the hosts within 78-76 with 35 seconds left.
But with only four team fouls, Vanguard let nearly 14 seconds tick away before fouling once, then fouling twice more to finally put the Royals on the line with a one-and-one free-throw situation with nine seconds left.
Hope senior Adrina Rendon, an All-GSAC performer who led the Royals with 25 points and 10 rebounds, nailed both free throws to finalize the scoring.
"[The Royals] deserved it; they played better than us tonight," said Vanguard's Russ Davis, the GSAC Coach of the Year. "They just shoot well against us. They shot the lights out tonight."
Ballestero did the same, scoring most of her points on mid-range, pull-up jumpers against a cast of defenders. After scoring 22 of her team's 31 in the opening half, she had 26 of Vanguard's first 32 second-half points on her way to 31 points after intermission.
"My hat's off to Ballestero," Hope Coach Bill Crammer said. "She was unbelievable. I've never had anybody light me up for that kind of [point total]. We had three or four girls with four fouls trying to guard her. She was unstoppable tonight. Finally, at the end, we started doubling her coming off the picks, and that at least took the ball out of her hands and made somebody else shoot it."
All-GSAC senior Taylor Belmont had 11 points and 10 assists, but All-GSAC sophomore Samantha Doucette was one for 11 from the field and had only two points for the Lions.
Jordie Smith (nine points) and Melissa Norman (eight rebounds), contributed off the bench for Vanguard, which get an at-large bid to the 32-team NAIA Tournament that runs March 19-25 in Frankfort, Ky.
Jacobs, who was nine for 10 from the field, had 22 points for the winners, who will meet The Master's in the title game on Tuesday.
"It's frustrating," Davis said. "We didn't communicate on screens, we left too many players open, and we missed free throws [three for six in the final 5:14 and 15 of 21 for the game]."
Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal
Hope International 80, Vanguard 76
HIU – A. Rendon 25, Staves 2, Jacobs 22, Bauman 14, Perry 5, Canning 6, M. Rendon 6.
3-pt. goals – A. Rendon 4, M. Rendon 2, Bauman 2, Perry 1, Jacobs 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
VU – Doucette 2, Bednar 0, Ballestero 53, Belmont '11, Anderson 1, Smith 9.
3-pt. goals – Ballestero 5, Belmont 1, Smith 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – HIU, 37-31.