It was the Bishop Diego girls basketball team’s turn to play in a CIF-SS semifinal at the Brick House Gym.
And, just like the boys the night before, the Cardinals took care of business and earned a trip to next Saturday’s finals. They beat Santa Ana-Calvary Chapel, 42-36, in a 5A Division semifinal game.
Elliot Redkey scored 18 points and made 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch in the fourth quarter to help send second-seeded Bishop Diego back to the championship game for the first time since winning the title in 2015.
The Cardinals will play top-seed Ganesha in the title game at a venue to be determined by the CIF. Ganesha routed Vista del Lago, 61-17, in the other semifinal.
It’s expected that the Bishop girls and boys teams will play at the same venue, either Godinez High, Colony High, Azusa Pacific University or Cal Baptist University. The venue should be determined Sunday.
Bishop Diego became the first Santa Barbara County school to advance its boys and girls basketball teams to the CIF finals in the same year since St. Joseph of Santa Maria in 1991.
After his girls watched the Bishop boys beat Vistamar on Friday night to advance to the Division 5AA finals, coach Jeff Burich felt there might be a little added pressure on his team on Saturday.
He relaxed the girls by telling them of a sports-related TV commercial that aired a few years ago that used the song “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better.”
“I said that’s our motto,” Burich related. “ ‘The boys did it last night, but I tell you, anything they can do you guys can do better.’
“And we didn’t lose a quarter — we tied two quarters and won the other two. Just being able to compete for eight minutes at a time just made a big difference for us.”
Neither team shot the ball well, but Bishop’s defense, hustle on the boards and aggressive drives to the basket allowed it to open up a nine-point lead in the third quarter (23-14).
“You can’t really coach having to rebound but you have to try and stress it,” Burich said. “We need to get five (players) in there. We got hurt when only three would be inside, but when we got five inside there, we were able to make a difference.
“The kids the last two weeks got really coachable as we went to the playoffs. That always helps.”
Calvary Chapel found some offensive rhythm by getting the ball to its 6-foot-1 center Kendall Franklin in the post. Her play sparked an 8-0 run, pulling the Eagles to within one.
“It definitely got very, very scary, but we all came together and we knew our goal was to win CIF, so nothing was going to come in the way of that,” said Redkey of Calvary Chapel’s run,
Bishop Diego, however kept its composure, continued battling and clutch play off the bench. Ashlyn Oxton drew fouls while scrapping for rebounds on the offensive glass and made a couple of free throws. Sophie Benoit stole the ball and scored at the other end, giving the Cardinals a 27-24 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“I just liked our effort,” Redkey said. “Our effort the last game (at Woodcrest Christian) we kind of came in nervous, thinking we weren’t going to do as well. But in this game we came out and we said, ‘We got this, we know we got this. We are a great team and we know we can do this.”
Naour concurred with Redkey that Wednesday’s close quarterfinal win heighten their focus for Saturday.
“We were coming off Wednesday and we realized it was almost going to be taken away from us,” Naour said. “So we wanted to keep fighting back and keep playing like the boys are doing. And, to show that the girls can do it just as well as them.”
Asked about battling Calvary Chapel’s taller players for rebounds, Naour said she and her teammates battle hard against each other every day in practice.
“I think we did a really good job of boxing out and predicting where the other girls are going,” she said. “We’ve been playing against each other and I don’t think anyone can be as tough was we are to each other.”
To reach the CIF finals is a dream come true for Julia De La Cruz.
“I’ve never really been to the CIF playoffs, let alone the championship,” she said. “This is my second year on varsity and moving here (to Bishop Diego) has made a big difference for me. It’s really awesome having people coming out (to attend the games); my teammates are behind me, my coaches, my family, all my friends are behind me. It feels good and I want to celebrate with them.”
Franklin, who scored all of her 12 points in the second half, knocked down a pair of free throws to put the Eagles down by one, 27-26, to start the fourth quarter.
Bishop took charge at that point. De La Cruz passed to Lily Simolon and she buried a 17-foot jumper to start an 8-0 run. Naour powered her way inside for a basket, Redkey dished to De La Cruz and then drove hard to the rim to put the Cardinals ahead 34-26 with 4:36 to go
Franklin ended the Bishop run with an offensive rebound, but the Eagles turned the ball over on their next two possessions on a traveling call and a steal by Citlali Morales.
Morales made a free throw for a 37-26 lead with 1:09 left before Chloe Zuzueta hit a three-pointer for Calvary Chapel to make it a 37-31 game.
Redkey took care of the rest for Bishop as she dribbled through back-court pressure, got fouled and made her free throws to seal the victory.
“To be able to finish like that is impressive,” said Burich.