GLENDALE — During one of its most successful seasons in program history, the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy basketball team has accomplished feats such as winning four Mission League games and advancing all the way to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5-AA playoffs — both unprecedented in previous seasons of struggle.
"We're very happy," said Tologs Coach Gino Pacella. "We've broken a lot of barriers this year."
But breaking into the semifinals will be an arduous task, as the Tologs are set to travel today to face No. 1 seed St. Bernard at 7 p.m.
"Everybody's gonna have to dig down deep," Pacella said.
Both teams enter tonight's contest as at-large playoff entries from very well-regarded leagues. Sacred Heart (17-11) took fourth in the Mission League, behind such luminaries as Harvard-Westlake, Chaminade and Alemany. St. Bernard (17-13), which won a CIF title last season, took fourth in the Del Rey League, which boasts CIF powers Bishop Amat, Bishop Montgomery and Gardena Serra.
St. Bernard, which holds notable wins during the season over the likes of Canyon Country Canyon, Bishop Montgomery and Alemany, has pummeled its two previous playoff foes, defeating Frazier Mountain, 77-27, and Louisville, 61-23. Sacred Heart bested Alverno, 57-32, in the opening round before beating Workman, 77-50, on Saturday night.
For Pacella, though, he believes his team's trials and tribulations in the Mission League have more than prepared his girls for any opposition, even a team as powerful as the Vikings.
"What we know how to do is all in our heads. It's all a matter of execution now," Pacella said. "Going into a game like this, it's just like another Mission League game, we just have to execute."
St. Bernard poses serious problems in the paint, as freshman center Lajahna Drummer averages 17.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.3 steals a game. The 6-foot-2 standout is one of five Vikings who are 6 foot or taller. According to Pacella, she's also one of four starting freshmen, despite last year's championship squad losing just one senior on a team that Pacella calls, an "all-star factory."
"I hate to be the one to cry foul, but starting four freshmen after they lost one senior, it's ridiculous," he said. "Until CIF cracks down it, there's nothing we can do."
For tonight, anyway, Pacella believes what his team needs to do first and foremost is compete for rebounds and limit the Vikings' second chances.
"It's gonna start on defense and boxing out their two bigs," said Pacella, adding that the second key will be his guards being able to create off the dribble to start the offense.
Sacred Heart has been keyed all season by the play of senior guard Vanessa Romero (15.5 steals per game and 2.9 steals), sophomore guard Dana Budzyn (5.9 points per game, 2.8 assists and 3.2 steals) and junior center Lana Haddad (13.8 points per game and 11.0 rebounds).
The winner of tonight's quarterfinal will face either Campbell Hall or St. Paul on Saturday in the semifinals at an alternate site.