HANFORD — Three players finished in double figures, the team grabbed a season-high 63 rebounds and Sierra Pacific advanced to the regional semifinals for the second year in a row behind a convincing 74-40 victory over Firebaugh in the CIF State Division second round on Saturday.
Celeste Lewis scored a team-high 18 points, Alana Roberts put together her 12th double-double of the year with 13 points and 13 rebounds, and Haley Bettencourt finished with 13 points
“We moved the ball well, we got down the court really fast,” Roberts said. “We still have some things to work on, but we’re fine.”
The No. 1 seed Golden Bears (29-5, 10-0 ESL) led 41-23 at halftime, but they really shut the door when they started the third quarter on a 14-2 run.
“Coach says every halftime in the locker room to us, ‘Games are won and lost in the first three minutes of the second half,’” Sierra Pacific guard Janae Tolbert said. “We take that and we take it out on the court and bring it with us.”
Lewis started the second half by scoring eight of the team’s first 11 points. Cristina Avila hit a 3-pointer to punctuate their big run and forced 8-seed Firebaugh to call a timeout. An 18-point halftime lead had suddenly ballooned to 30 points.
Sierra Pacific forward Kalea Bush, who finished with six points, fouled out with over seven minutes to go in the third, but the team’s deep bench didn’t miss a beat. Rose Miller filled the void first and couldn’t have done a better job.
Miller was 1-for-6 from the floor, but it was more about the little things she did on the court that made the big difference. She got a body on someone when a shot went up, moved her feet on defense, grabbed six rebounds and even had a block on the night. Miller was also 3-of-4 from the free throw line.
Her effective minutes are why this team is so dangerous. Everyone always seems to step up into whatever role they’re presented with.
“We have a great rotation,” Sierra Pacific coach Amy Bush said. “Rose does a great job of running the floor. She came out and got some great rebounds. She played great defense.”
The Eagles ended the third on a 9-5 run, but trailed 60-34 heading into the fourth quarter, before being outscored 14-6 over the final eight minutes.
Sierra Pacific is back in the regional semifinals, but the biggest difference this time is they’ll be at home. Last year, they had to travel three hours to Village Christian High School where they eventually lost by 12.
“I like the support and everybody cheering us,” Roberts said. “It’s a good feeling to be home.”
The Golden Bears got off to a quick start, as usual, and grabbed their first double-digit lead of the game on Lewis’ floater in the lane for a 13-3 lead. Tolbert — who had a season-high 12 rebounds — closed the quarter by completing a three-point play and her team led 24-7.
Firebaugh picked up offensively in the second, but had no answer on defense. Bettencourt got to the rim with little resistance, Kalea scored on back-to-back possessions and the Golden Bears still outscored the Eagles 17-16 in the quarter.
On the night, Sierra Pacific collected 31 offensive and 32 defensive rebounds. Their previous season-high was 55 against Strathmore in February. The team did struggle with 23 turnovers, their third most in a game this season.
“I think we overthought things instead of just playing our game,” Tolbert said about the turnovers. “We pressured ourselves a lot more than we should have.”
The team was also 14-of-35 from the free throw line. The 40 percent clip was tied for their second worst performance of the season. It was also their second game in a row shooting sub-50 percent from the line.
Sierra Pacific will face 4-seed Grace Brethren (25-3, 13-0 FL) tonight in the regional semifinals at 7 p.m. The Frontier League champions have won 20 games in a row and defeated Gardena 59-56 in the second round.