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Girls Basketball

Santa Barbara Knocks Off Ventura, Earns Share of Channel League Girls Basketball Title

Dons use good balance, strong second half to beat Cougars for first championship since 1988

Cassandra Gordon of Santa Barbara drives on Ventura’s Emily Herring during Channel League showdown at J.R. Richards Gym.
Cassandra Gordon of Santa Barbara drives on Ventura’s Emily Herring during Channel League showdown at J.R. Richards Gym. (Diego Topete / Noozhawk photo)

The seniors on the Santa Barbara High girls basketball team have accomplished great things in their careers — winning a CIF-Southern Section division championship and  a CIF Regional title,  finishing as runner-up in the state finals and capturing a Tournament of Champions crown.

What was missing, though, was a Channel League title.

The Dons marked that off the “to-do” list on Monday night.

Cassandra Gordon knocked down back-to-back pull-up jumpers at the end of the third quarter and Jada Howard opened the fourth with a 3-pointer and a layup off a Amber Melgoza screen during a 17-0 run, and the Dons held Ventura to six points in the final stanza to win 48-41 at J.R. Richard Gym and earn a share of the league title.

[Scroll down for video highlights]

It’s the first league title for the Andrew Butcher-coached Dons since 1988. The result also snapped Ventura’s 38-game league win streak, which goes back to 2011. The Santa Barbara, 25-2 overall and ranked 12th in the CIF-SS 1AA Division, finishes league play at 7-1. Eleventh-ranked Ventura is 6-1 and 17-9, with one remaining game against Buena.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Melgoza said. “We played unbelievable. Everybody from the bench to the little girls sitting on the bench with us to all the fans, we all stepped up and just came as one. I thought that’s what guided us to get a co-championship.”

Howard, her senior teammate agreed. “We were all contributing, and you like to see that with a team,” she said. “With everyone contributing points, it’s what helped us come out with this win tonight.”

Amber Melgoza of the Dons drives to the basket. Melgoza scored 14 points to share team scoring honors with Jada Howard. Click to view larger
Amber Melgoza of the Dons drives to the basket. Melgoza scored 14 points to share team scoring honors with Jada Howard. (Diego Topete / Noozhawk photo )

On winning a share of the league title for the first time, Howard said: “Honestly, it’s the best feeling. I’ve had an amazing four years. I’ve been blessed with an amazing team and an amazing coach. And, the amazing community supporting us.”

Butcher said watching this group over the years has been fun.

“They’ve been a great group and they work really, really hard,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fun with this group. It’s too much fun. The kids work hard and they’re coachable. (Assistant coach) Carlina (Gonzalez) and I are fortunate to have this group.

Santa Barbara overcame a cold shooting first half and turned the game around late in the third quarter. After being outscored 13-2 and falling behind 31-25, Howard buried a 3-point to ignite the Dons and the home crowd.

Aubrey Knight answered for Ventura with a basket after a nice inside move. But Gordon responded with her first 15-foot jumper. Knight scored again for the Cougars and Gordon came right back with another jumper to make it a 35-32 game.

“We ran an isolation play, which was new for us, and that really helped me out a lot,” said Gordon.

Asked what Butcher told the team at halftime, Gordon said, “Take shots you can make 90 percent of time. And that really helped.”

“She’s great at 15 feet,” Butcher said of Gordon. “We want her to shoot at 15 or go to the rack.  In the first quarter, she kept driving in traffic and had three turnovers. We told her at halftime, ‘You got pick and choose and make a better read.’ In the second half she really did.”

The Dons pressed and Melgoza stole the ball and scored on a layup to leave them down 35-34 at the end of the quarter.

“The end of the third quarter we just kind of fell apart a bit,” Ventura coach Ann Larson said. “They’re good team, they got senior leadership and they took advantage of our mistakes. Our turnovers turned into layups for them, where their turnovers turned into us walking the ball down the court.”

Howard kept things rolling at the start of the fourth with a 3-pointer, giving Santa Barbara the lead, 37-25. She then used a great screen by Melgoza to drive in for a layup. Gordon followed with layup, Alondra Jimenez hit a one-handed leaner and Melgoza drove hard to the basket for a 45-35 lead with 3:30 to go.

“The second half we were a little more patient,” Butcher said. “The shot selection was a lot better. We went from 17 points to 31.”

The Dons’ defense was stellar during the final quarter. Kimberly Gebhardt, giving up about seven inches to Ventura’s 6-2 Barbara Rangel, worked hard to push her away from the basket while two other players converged on the Cougars’ center when the ball was passed to her and knocked it away.

“Taking her away was crucial to the game and winning,” said Butcher.

Santa Barbara girls basketball team celebrates beating Ventura for the program’s first Channel League title since 1988.
Santa Barbara girls basketball team celebrates beating Ventura for the program’s first Channel League title since 1988. (Diego Topete / Noozhawk photo)

“We just tried to get lower than her and push her out,” Melgoza said. “I want to give Kimberly Gebhardt the most credit. She played unbelievable. She played with all of her heart and pushed (Rangel) out.”

Larson said her team tried to go to Rangel too much.

“They were able to double down on our post and we didn’t make the right decisions,” she said. “They were double and triple teaming our post players and we were still going to throw it in there, even though that wasn’t the best idea.”

Rangel was Ventura’s high scorer with 19 points, but she was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. Knight finished with 17.

Seniors Howard and Melgoza each scored 14 points to lead a balanced Santa Barbara offense. Jimenez had eight points, Gordon seven and Gebhardt five.

Melgoza also was big on the boards and on defense, grabbing 10 rebounds and making five steals. Jimenez had four steals, and the Dons had 16 as a team.

Butcher said staying close in the rebound battle was key for his team. Ventura outrebound the Dons 26-22.

“We knew if we close in rebounding we had a chance. That was a big thing for us,” he said.

This was Santa Barbara's second win over Ventura this season. The Dons beat the Cougars in the final of their Tournament of Champions.

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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