The Sunset Region girls finals matchup that most predicted now is a reality, but it took more effort than Centennial expected on Thursday.
The Bulldogs advanced to today’s championship against Bishop Gorman after a gritty 58-53 victory over Durango.
The Gaels (26-4) and Bulldogs (28-3) will meet at 5 p.m. today at Palo Verde.
With both teams in foul trouble — 53 total fouls were called, and each team had starters foul out — the game was almost at a standstill for much of the fourth quarter.
But Centennial grabbed two clutch rebounds down the stretch as the Trailblazers missed a pair of layups, securing the victory.
That it was so close was quite the surprise — the Bulldogs were coming off Tuesday’s 120-40 victory over Sierra Vista in the Sunset quarterfinals.
“I can only focus on us and the fact that we didn’t come out and do what we were supposed to do,” Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. “We do stress to our kids all the time, ‘One day at a time,’ and we tell them not to look ahead because I’ve seen teams in the past get burned by that.
“But do kids probably do that? Yeah, they do.”
In the end, the absence of two foul-plagued Trailblazers likely tipped the game in Centennial’s favor.
Durango’s long-bomber Lindy La Rocque (18 points) was the first to exit, picking up her fifth foul with five minutes to play and Centennial leading 50-47. Guard Mia Bell (21 points) followed her out with 2:51 on the clock and the Trailblazers (26-6) trailing 54-49.
Trailblazers coach John Bartleson made his displeasure with the officiating known, though he also noted his team’s poor free-throw shooting (16 of 35) was to blame.
“They can fire me, I can care less,” Bartleson said. “Right when the game started, I knew we had two good referees, and the third was brutal. It’s sad — very sad — to take it away from the kids like that.”
While carefully not placing any onus on the officiating, Weitz conceded her squad was unable to get into its usual offense — up and down the floor, rinse, repeat — because of the stoppages.
“Tonight it was hard to get into a flow because every time you moved five steps, the whistle was blown,” Weitz said. “Yeah, it was a little whistley.”
• Bishop Gorman 64, Bonanza 40 — The Gaels didn’t have as much trouble with the Bengals (16-10), as their inside game proved overpowering.
“We came out flat today, didn’t play our norm — but still we won by 24,” coach Sheryl Krmpotich said, downplaying her team’s dominance. “Sometimes we play to the level of our competition, and I think that’s with every team.
“But we are well balanced, and that’s a luxury.”
With twin towers Ashley Gayle (18 points, 15 rebounds) and Danielle Diamant (16 points, nine rebounds) patrolling the paint, Gorman was too much for Bonanza.
But Gayle maintains it’s the team game — with Darriel Gaynor, Aaryn Ellenberg and Kiara Belen on the perimeter — that makes things click.
“It’s really important for us to go inside and play the type of game that we’ve been using the whole year,” Gayle said. “But the great thing about our team is that if we can’t get it going inside, we have very athletic guards who can handle themselves.
“Teams are gonna have a hard time guarding us — inside or out.”
Contact reporter Jon Gold at jgold@ reviewjournal.com or (702) 380-4587.