Ariel Plourde
Ariel Plourde of San Marcos looks for an open teammate as she drives around Brooklyn Shamblin of Oaks Christian during the CIF-SS 3A semifinal basketball game at the Thunderhut. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

The San Marcos girls basketball team was playing its game and taking it to top-seeded Oaks Christian in the first half of Wednesday’s CIF-SS 3A Division semifinal game.

The Royals took the taller Lions out of their flow with their relentless defense, knocked down their three-pointers and attacked the basket to take a 29-22 halftime lead.

But Oaks Christian was sharper at both ends of the court in the second half and rallied for a 44-39 victory to end San Marcos’ deepest run in the section playoffs.

“I don’t know exactly what changed in the second half,” San Marcos coach Tiffany Sims said of the turnaround. “We came out with the same intensity. We just didn’t come out with the same execution, and I don’t know what that’s attributed to.”

Oaks Christian pushed the pace in the second half and tightened its man defense, making it tougher for San Marcos to get clean looks at the basket. 

The Royals were held to an Ellie Munson offensive rebound basket in an 11-2 third quarter and fell behind 33-31.

Oaks Christian outscored San Marcos 9-2 in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to build its lead to 42-33.

Oaks Christian freshman point guard Brooklyn Shamblin of Carpinteria said the Lions were more attack-minded in the second half.

“I think we just came out with an attacking mentality,” she said. “I think we deferred a lot in the first half. We came out with more energy (in the second half) and wanted it more.”

Shamblin, whose mother is a teacher at Carpinteria High, had several family members and friends at the game. She played club basketball in Santa Barbara with Jelani Hicks’ Dream Chasers.

“It was great having all my family here. It’s as close as I’m going to get to my hometown,” she said.

Shamblin, who led the Lions with 15 points, sparked the third-quarter surge by attacking the basket. She scored nine of their 11 points in the quarter.

“She’s a gamer,” Oaks Christian coach Kristy Hopkins said.

The Lions were able to dictate the pace in the second half.

“We played more of our type of game,” Hopkins said. “We gained confidence from the flow of the end of the first half.

“I told the girls to just go by their press. I know they could have done it (in the first half) but we were stopping and getting trapped. So instead of doing that, we went right by them and got some buckets inside, and we did some things defensively as well.”

Sims felt her team’s playoff inexperience played a big part in the second half.

“I don’t think their defense affected our offense,” she said. “I think what it is is we have young girls that have never been this deep into the playoffs before, not been to this level and then just let the intensity get the best of them instead of being patient — just trying to overplay and not play our game.”

San Marcos had the top-seeded Lions flustered during the first half. The Royals’ high-pressure defense disrupted Oaks Christian’s rhythm and they knocked down shots.

Mia Martinez, Natasha Bender and Monson buried three-pointers, helping the Royals to a 15-12 first-quarter lead.

Oaks Christian, which had a 6-foot-3 post player in Omamoke Okah, dominated the boards but couldn’t convert second and third chances. 

Michelle Arellanes and Carley Nielsen opened the second quarter with three-pointers and Monson beat her defender one on one for a driving layup, pushing the lead to 23-12 and sending the crowd into a frenzy.

The 5-foot-2 Monson showed no fear driving at Okah and scoring. She then dished off to Nielsen for a layup and a 27-14 advantage.

But Oaks Christian caught fire at the end of the second quarter behind the play of Shamblin. 

She scored on a drive, hit a jumper and dished to Okah for a layup to cut the San Marcos lead to 29-22.

Shamblin kept it going in the third quarter as the Lions took the lead for good.

Monson, who led the Royals with 13 points, was proud how her team fought to the end against the division’s top seed in the semifinals.

“I’m really proud of how we played tonight,” she said. “We worked super hard as a team. We put in so much work to get to where we are today, and I think we showed that. Some things didn’t work out for us, but we were always there for each other. And we’re going to be ready for state coming up.”

Sims said the Royals are expected to receive a bid to the CIF State Tournament on Sunday.

As the players emerged from the locker room, San Marcos fans applauded them.

Asked what she thought of the reaction, Sims said: “I’ve said it all season, I’m so proud of these girls and the way they play. They play from the tipoff until the buzzer buzzes, and you can’t ask for a better team. Down or up, we play and we don’t give up. 

“I’m so proud of this team and how they turned around the program.”

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.