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Girls Basketball

Santa Barbara Girls Come to Play, Upend Powerhouse Mater Dei in Open Division

Amber Melgoza scores 31 points, Dons hold Monarchs without a shot in final 19 seconds to stay alive in consolation bracket

Cassandra Goron of Santa Barbara drives past Mater Dei’s Jayda Adams (2) and Allyson Rosenblum for two of her eight points.
Cassandra Goron of Santa Barbara drives past Mater Dei’s Jayda Adams (2) and Allyson Rosenblum for two of her eight points. (Diego Topete / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s going to be fun,” is a phrase Santa Barbara High girls basketball coach Andrew Butcher commonly uses when his Dons are going to play a really strong opponent.

His Dons had a blast on Wednesday night as they upset perennial powerhouse Mater Dei, 48-45, in a consolation round game of the CIF-Southern Section Open Division playoffs at J.R. Richards Gym.

Amber Melgoza scored 31 points and Santa Barbara went on a 15-0 run in the third period to erase a 33-23 deficit. They then held off the Monarchs down the stretch with tough defensive play and good rebounding. On Mater Dei’s last possession with 19.6 seconds left, Santa Barbara’s defense held the Monarchs without a shot. As the buzzer sounded, the Dons mobbed each other, screaming and jumping with joy.

[Scroll to bottom of story for video highlights]

Santa Barbara (26-3) will now face Vista Murrieta in consolation round quarterfinal game on Saturday at home. Mater Dei (24-3), which lost against two public schools in the elite 16-team bracket was eliminated and will wait for an at-large spot in the CIF State Tournament.

Butcher was happy to see the joy back in his team’s play.

Amber Melgoza puts up a tough shot against Mater Dei. Melgoza scored a game-high 31 points Click to view larger
Amber Melgoza puts up a tough shot against Mater Dei. Melgoza scored a game-high 31 points (Diego Topete / Noozhawk photo)

“The most important thing was we were so dismal on Saturday,” said Butcher, referring to Saturday’s blowout loss to Chaminade in the first round. “We talked to the kids and said, ‘You got to play with some joy. You can’t get down and get all freaked out because then you’ll play worse.’ We said no matter what happens just play with joy in your heart and play positively. If you lose you lose, but at least you gave your best effort.”

The Dons did that from the opening tip-off against a Mater Dei team that had a size advantage at every position.

“They have a 5-11 point guard then 6-2, 6-4," Butcher said. "When the national anthem was playing, I looked at our girls and looked at their girls when they lined up and said to (assistant) coach (Carlina Gonzalez), ‘You know, coach, this could be a long night.’”

At the start of the third quarter, it looked like Mater Dei was going to pull away as Sarah Rahon buried back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Monarchs ahead 33-23.

But Santa Barbara refused to be intimidated and went right at the taller Monarchs. Cassandra Gordon hit a couple of clutch jumpers and the Dons started lobbing the ball inside to Melgoza, who generated scoring opportunities for herself and others. She scored twice on lob plays during the team’s scoring run.

“We thought she was more athletic than their big girls,” Butcher said of Melgoza’s ability to maneuver inside. “She made some big plays. She takes a lot of punishment; she is the focus. She just did an amazing job. What we did better was the girls really got the ball in her hands.”

Amber is fearless going after the ball.

“I’m not really afraid,” she said. “It kind of goes back to 6th grade flag football. Honestly, I’m not afraid to play against anything.”

Butcher complimented his players for their pinpoint passing on the lobs.

“Those passes are excellent passes. There’s about a one-foot window to throw them into and they did good job with those,” he said.

Jada Howard delivered one of those passes and Melgoza scored and was fouled. She converted the 3-point play to put the Dons ahead 38-33 with 29 seconds left in the third quarter.

Mater Dei answered with a 3-point play of its own by 6-2 Emma Torbert, giving the Monarchs momentum going into the final period

Melgoza scored to start the fourth quarter for a 40-36 lead, but Mater Dei came back and reclaimed the lead, 41-40, on a 3-pointer by Jayda Adams and two free throws from 6-4 center Allyson Rosenblum.

The Dons put the ball in Melgoza’s hands and she delivered with a free throw, a jump shot and a tough fall-away jumper to put her team back in the lead, 45-41.

Tolbert made two free throws for Mater Dei and the Monarchs stole the inbounds pass, but they missed a shot and the Dons grabbed the rebound.

Butcher said his team’s rebounding in the second half was key to the win. “Every rebound was gold in this game.”

Gebhardt led the team with nine rebounds, Gordon and Howard each had five and Melgoza grabbed four.

“We were even on the boards and at halftime we were way behind. We ended up 27-27. That’s amazing against a team like that.”

Melgoza got to the line again and sank her two free throws for a 47-43 lead. Rosenblum, who led the Monarchs with 14 points, scored on an offensive rebound to make it a two-point game with 1:02 left.  Howard sank one of two free throws to put the Dons up 48-45, and they got the ball back after a traveling call and worked the clock before missing a shot. Gebhardt grabbed the offensive rebound, but the Monarchs ripped it out of hands and called time out with 19.6 seconds left.

It was plenty of time to score, but Mater Dei never got a look at the basket because of good Santa Barbara defense.

“They had two 3-point options, which we took away, and they didn’t seem to have a Plan C,” said Butcher.

The long-time coach said it was Santa Barbara’s first win over Mater Dei since Kristen Knapp played for the Dons in 1989-90.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Melgoza about beating the Monarchs. “I used to have so many (club) teammates play for Mater Dei and was always hearing about them. With us being in a lower division, we never were able to play against them. And to finally be able to play them, it’s a great feeling, especially beating them at our home.”

Said Butcher: “It was a lot of fun.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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