The girls were gritty, the boys were brilliant, and both Santa Barbara High basketball teams are moving on in the CIF Southern Section playoffs.

The Dons girls rebounded from a disheartening defeat to upset Mater Dei, 48-45, in an Open Division consolation game Wednesday night at J.R. Richards Gym. They will play another home game at 7 p.m. Saturday, February 27, against Vista Murrieta. Both teams have 26-3 records.

In a Division 2A boys quarterfinal game the previous night, top-ranked Santa Barbara unleashed a 30-point first quarter against Lawndale and rolled to an 84-69 victory. The Dons (29-1) will go on the road Friday night to face La Mirada (24-7) in the semifinals.

Coach Andrew Butcher was unsure how the Santa Barbara girls would respond against another higher-ranked opponent in Mater Dei after powerful Chaminade welcomed them to the Open Division by inflicting an 81-45 loss last Saturday.

“We got down and gave up,” Butcher said. “Tonight, we got down and kept playing.”

The Dons played with aggression against the taller Monarchs. Amber Melgoza, their 5’10” shooting star, scored most of her 31 points in the paint, and she defended Mater Dei’s 6’4” UCLA-bound center, Allyson Rosenblum, holding her to 14 points. Kimberly Gebhardt, Santa Barbara’s 5’8” junior, grabbed nine rebounds while battling 6’2” Emma Torbert.

Sophomore Cassandra Gordon made several key plays for the Dons. Her spinning layup late in the third quarter put them ahead for the first time, 35-33, after they had trailed by 10 points. The Monarchs failed to get a shot off in the final 17 seconds, as Gordon guarded their most dangerous three-point shooter. “I was in her face,” she said.

Vista Murrieta will bring another strong lineup to the Santa Barbara gym. The Broncos are led by 6’1” senior Jaelyn Brown, a Cal Bears recruit, and LMU-bound Brittney Reed, a 5’10” senior. The winner Saturday will advance to the consolation semifinals, while the losing team will await an at-large bid to the State Regionals.

Bolden Brace channeled his inner Steph Curry at the outset of the boys’ game against Lawndale. The 6’5” senior sank six three-pointers – some of them beyond NBA range – and scored 20 points in the first eight minutes. “It was unreal,” teammate Nick Busch said. “I’ve never seen somebody shoot like that.” Brace did more passing than shooting the rest of the game and wound up with 29 points. The final quarter was a slam-dunk show by the Dons. Busch put down a pair of the slams and finished with 20 points.

La Mirada advanced to the semifinal with a 63-50 victory over Redlands East Valley, the team that ended Santa Barbara’s run in the playoffs last year. Hart (22-7) will host Lynwood (22-5) in the other semifinal. The Dons are trying to reach a CIF final for the first time since 1991, when they won the Division 1A crown with a 50-49 win over Marina.

The Southern Section basketball finals will be held March 5-6 at Anaheim, Azusa and Santa Ana.

In girls’ water polo, Orange Lutheran stopped San Marcos High’s championship bid in the Division 1 semifinals, 8-6.


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