Zornig leads Santa Margarita into 3A title game
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA - For the first time in five years, Santa Margarita is returning to a CIF-SS championship game.
The top-seeded Eagles overcame second-half foul trouble and used a suffocating perimeter defense to defeat Bonita of La Verne, 57-43, in Saturday night's Division 3A girls basketball semifinals at Tesoro High.
Santa Margarita improved to 23-6 to reach next week's finals (click here for updated CIF girls basketball brackets).
Senior guard Melissa Zornig, who averages 24.1 points per game, sparked the Eagles on both ends of the floor, scoring 25 points and adding eight steals, four rebounds and four assists.
"She's always got the toughest responsibility coming into a game," Santa Margarita coach Matt Houser said. "My heart goes out to her because she has to guard the Bonnie Samuelsons, the Cassie Harberts, and this player, number 21 (Bonita's Taylor Anderson), a great player."
After Santa Margarita grabbed an early 10-4 lead, the Bearcats went on an 11-2 run that ended when the Eagles' Elise Lorenz made a layup with 3:40 left in the second quarter. The teams exchanged leads on the next four made baskets, but Zornig and Madison McKinney helped push Santa Margarita to a 25-19 lead at the half.
"We played well for about 12 minutes," Bonita coach Darren Baumunk said. "The last four minutes of the second quarter, I thought, we made a couple of mistakes and turnovers. They capitalized on it and went ahead by six at halftime. And I think that took a little out of us."
The Bearcats (25-5) were pestered by Santa Margarita's perimeter defense most of the night, committing 23 turnovers
"That's probably by far the best defensive team, man-on-man, for a half-court defense we've faced all year," Baumunk said.
Every time Bonita attempted to make a run, Santa Margarita adjusted. At the start of the third quarter, they tried to get the ball inside to center Brianna Kennedy, the Eagles countered by pressuring the entry pass.
Trailing by 12 in the fourth quarter, junior guard Taylor Anderson scored on a jumper and was fouled, converting the free throw to cut Santa Margarita's lead to nine. Denise Fernandez immediately responded for the Eagles with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
"They (Bonita) would catch up and you'd see our seniors come down hit a huge shot and come down again on defense, so we could keep that lead," Houser said. "It just wears on a team after that. It's so hard to get the lead back and they just keep coming at you and coming at you. That's what we did tonight."
Even with starters Zornig, Fernandez, McKinney and Lorenz playing with three or more fouls through much of the second half, the Eagles prevented Bonita from scoring any baskets from 3-point range. And while the Bearcats outshot Santa Margarita from the free-throw line through three quarters, late-game fouls evened the disparity.
Bonita shot 15 of 22 from the line, while Santa Margarita converted 15 of 18, including a 10-for-10 effort from Zornig.
"In the second half they really had to foul us to put us at the line and we still triumphed, so I'm really proud of them," Houser said.
Anderson led the Bearcats with 15 points. Kennedy finished with 13 and six rebounds and Ariana Domasin chipped in a game-high eight boards to go along with two points.
Fernandez scored 13 points for Santa Margarita, including two 3-pointers in the second half.