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Orange Lutheran battles its way to title
SANTA ANA – Orange Lutheran coach Tom Howard knew points were going to be few and far between on Friday night.
Santa Margarita’s Craig DeBusk guessed 50 would be enough to win the game.
As it turned out, 35 was the magic number.
Lancers junior forward Gloria Bates finished with a game-high 17 points and 13 rebounds as Orange Lutheran knocked off Santa Margarita, 35-31, Friday night in the CIF-SS Division 3A championship game at Godinez High.
Orange Lutheran went 3-0 vs. Santa Margarita this season.
“Santa Margarita is such a good team,” Howard said. “It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a year. They have girls that have been in this game. They’re competitors, they battle. We knew if we were going to do this, we were going to have to do some things that were a little improbable and we were going to make some plays that seemed kind of weird. And we were able to do it.”
The Eagles (18-14) jumped out to a 7-0 lead, making their offensive execution look relatively easy in the process.
Without its leading scorer, Taelor Griffin, who was ruled out because of concussion-like symptoms, Orange Lutheran (23-8) struggled to get any kind of traction in the first quarter. The Lancers went 1 for 8 from the field, turned the ball over six times, and yet trailed only 9-5 at the end of the first.
Bates was more assertive in the second, finding the gaps in the Santa Margarita zone. An 8-2 Lancers run to end the second gave Orange Lutheran a 16-15 lead at the break.
The Lancers maintained a one-point lead headed into the fourth quarter when Santa Margarita’s Nikki Wilkins reclaimed the lead with a 3-pointer to start the final quarter.
Said Howard: “I told the girls, ‘Look, we’ve been here before. We’ve grinded out games. We’ve played close games. You know how to be in that game.’ They just had that fight, determination and that spirit. And we got some stops there at the end.”
Trailing, 31-29, with four minutes to go in the game, the Lancers did not allow another Eagles basket, locking down defensively.
Bates went 3 for 4 from the line down the stretch, and hit a crucial driving layup with her left hand with 2:20 to go, putting Orange Lutheran up for good, 32-31.
“Gloria’s really picked up the slack with Taelor being out,” Howard said. “She was phenomenal. We didn’t shoot free throws well, but down the stretch we made them.”
The Lancers and Eagles both figure to see their seasons extended when CIF state brackets are released Sunday afternoon.
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