#3 Ellie Monson led San Marcos with nine points and ferocious defense at the point of attack. | Credit: Gary Kim

As the San Marcos High girls’ basketball team exited the locker room postgame and returned to Maury Halleck gymnasium, the remaining spectators erupted into applause. The Royals fought, scratched, and clawed, but their thrilling pursuit of a CIF Southern Section Division 3A title was derailed by a 44-39 loss to visiting Oaks Christian on Wednesday night.

However, the loss did not diminish a remarkable effort by the Royals, who controlled the game for the better part of three quarters before succumbing to Oaks Christian’s physical advantages.

“I’ve said it all season: I am so proud of these girls and the way they play from tipoff until the final buzzer,” said San Marcos coach Tiffany Simms. “Down or up, we play, and they don’t give up.”

San Marcos’s smallest player, sophomore Ellie Monson, spearheaded the Royals onslaught in the first half. Defensive pressure kept Oaks Christian on its heels, and San Marcos knocked down six three-pointers in the first half to build a 27-14 lead midway through the second quarter.

“I’m really proud of the way we played tonight. We worked super hard as a team and put so much work in to get where we are today,” Monson said. “I think we showed that. It came down to the last minutes.”

Oaks Christian began to find its footing late in the first half and a basket inside by Omamoke Okah off an assist by Brooklyn Shamblin cut the Lions deficit to 29-22 just before halftime.

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In the second half, Oaks Christian turned up the defensive intensity and execution and held San Marcos to two points in the third quarter. As the Royals offense dried up, Shamblin exploded offensively. Her driving layup tied the game at 29-29 with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter.

An offensive rebound and put-back by Shamblin gave Oaks Christian a 33-31 lead in the final minute of the third quarter.

“At the end of the first half, we started running a little more and getting more into our flow of the game and what we do best,” said Oaks Christian coach Kristy Hopkins. “That helped gain some momentum for the second half, and we settled down a little bit. I told them at halftime, ‘Just play our game.’”

The Lions continued to score in the second half, and San Marcos’s prolonged drought deepened. A driving layup by Madison Brothers gave Oaks Christian its largest lead, 42-33, with just under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

A turnaround jumper by Michelle Arellanes cut the San Marcos deficit to 42-36 with 1:30 to play, but Oaks Christian made enough free throws down the stretch to keep the Royals at bay. San Marcos only scored 10 points on three made baskets from the field in the second half.

Shamblin, a freshman from Carpinteria, led all scorers with 15 points. By virtue of reaching the CIF-SS 3A semifinals, San Marcos will compete in the state tournament beginning next week.

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