Bell-Jeff Beats Antelope Valley To The Finish Line!

February 24, 2011 by  

BURBANK – After taking an initial step inside the Bell-Jeff High gymnasium Wednesday night, things appeared to be somewhat normal, nothing out of the ordinary.

One look at the hardwood floor indicated that a girls’ basketball game was about to take place on the particularly smooth surface, sooner rather than later.

The halfcourt line, along with the baselines and sidelines, were clearly visible. The same thing could be said about the 3-point arc and free-throw line.

But once the opening tip for the Southern Section Div. III-A playoff quarterfinal between visiting Antelope Valley and Bell-Jeff was set in motion, things changed.

The action was fast-paced, an up-and-down affair with both teams pushing the ball from the opening minute of play until the final buzzer sounded. It was as if everyone temporarily forgot that a basketball game was supposed to be played.

This showdown, however, turned into a track meet. And ultimately, No. 4-seeded Bell-Jeff ended up winning the race as Rishonda Napier led the Guards with 23 points en route to a 77-73 victory over fifth-seeded Antelope Valley.

“This was an evenly matched game, both good teams, it’s what you want in the playoffs,” Guards coach Jaclyn Johnson said. “We knew what we had to do to succeed and, yes, we might have been nervous, but nerves go out the window in these games.”

Bell-Jeff (22-6) advances to Saturday’s semifinal to face the winner of Wednesday night’s game

The Antelopes (24-6), on the other hand, must sit back, watch and think about what could have been after leading by double digits in the first half.

“This was a tough game to lose, a heartbreaker,” Antelope Valley coach Brett Pape said. “It was what we expected, a fast game. The only thing missing was the relay teams and the starting blocks. In the end, I could not be more proud of our girls.”

Behind Destini Price, Keiona Matthews and Nakira Johnson, Antelope Valley played well early and sustained the momentum to take a 24-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter. They extended the lead to as many as 15 points in the second quarter.

The Guards answered as Layana White, Jasmine Smith and Napier managed to get things going in the second quarter. The trio made several timely baskets to spark a 14-5 run to close the first half and cut the deficit to 40-37.

Bell-Jeff was not finished. White, a senior heading to Arizona, took over and helped cut the lead to one point heading into the fourth quarter. Over the final eight minutes, she made several key plays and the Guards were able to pull away.

“We wanted to push the ball and get to the basket, we didn’t finish strong though and that hurts all of us,” Matthews said. “I think we’re proud, very proud, of our season. We never gave up, that’s not our style. Still, losing is never fun, it’s hard for everyone.”

Matthews finished with a game-high 24 points. She had plenty of help too. Johnson added 18 points for the Guards and Price contributed 12 of her own.

Smith had 17 points and White ended up with 11.

“What a game, both teams ran their hearts out and played their hearts out,” Johnson said. “I can tell you this, Antelope Valley has nothing to be ashamed of.”   (see more photos here)

By Sean Ceglinsky Special to the Daily News/Photos by Vince Pugliese & John McCoy

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