IRVINE, Calif. – No. 2 seed Vanguard (#8 NAIA; 23-3) battled No. 1 seed Westmont (#3 NAIA; 25-4) for the Golden State Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Championship on Tuesday evening at Concordia University. During the regular season, the Lions sustained two of their three total losses against the Warriors, but as the old sports adage states, "It's hard to beat a good team three times," and it proved true once again as the Pride defeated the Warriors 63-57 to secure the GSAC trophy.
Westmont took a 6-0 lead in the opening minutes but Vanguard came alive following a quick substitution from Lions' head coach Russ Davis. He called back-up point guard Taylor Belmont (Oregon City, Ore.) into the game who promptly posted the Pride's first points of the half and sparked a 6-0 Blue and Gold run.
The contest remained back and forth until another substitution by Davis proved worthwhile, as VU freshman Samantha Doucette (Irvine, Calif.) entered the game to give the Lions a 14-12 advantage with her specialty, a mid-range jumper.
Westmont's Tugce Canitez brought it back to even at 14-all with her own jump-shot, but junior Nicole Ballestero (Orange, Calif.) responded with four-straight to put VU in the lead.
Esther Timmermans (Melbourne, Australia) stretched the edge to 20-14 with a reverse layup and a Chelsea Alfafara 3-point basket from nearly six feet out kept Vanguard out front by four (27-23) with under six to go in the period.
With 2:35 to play, Ballestero nailed one of her own from downtown to give her squad its biggest advantage of the contest at 37-27.
Alfafara keep the 10-point edge in tact with a clutch steal which facilitated a Ballestero fast-break lay-up but Canitez drew a foul with 1.6 on the clock and splashed both of her free throws to cut the gap to eight at the break (39-31).
Ballestero led all scorers at the half with 13 points, out-doing last year's NAIA player of the year, Canitez, by a point. Every Lion who came into the competition managed a bucket for VU. Belmont, Doucette and Timmermans dropped seven, six and six, respectively, in the first 20 minutes of play.
Senior Alison Drennan (Wheelers Hill, Australia) grabbed five of Vanguard's 11 rebounds to equal Canitez' total at the break, while Alfafara dished a game-leading three assists to her Lions' counterparts.
Both teams were perfect from the free throw line in the half, but Vanguard held a significant edge in both field-goal percentage (55.2 % vs. 42.9 %) and 3-point field goal percentage (42.9 % vs. 12.5 %).
Westmont out-rebounded VU 18-11 in the period.
Davis must have said something about the one-sided rebounding effort in his halftime speech, because the Lions emerged aggressive on the glass, securing three offensive boards in 1:52 to hold on to the 10-point lead (43-33).
WC head coach Kirsten Moore signaled for a timeout and the Warriors settled down to go on a 5-0 run. Canitez had the opportunity to cut it to three but missed a pair from the charity stripe to the relief of the roaring Lions' crowd.
At the 13:38 mark Canitez accomplished what she could not minutes before, connecting on a 3-pointer to bring the championship within three.
With momentum building in WC's favor and the game within a point, Ballestero drained one from beyond the arc and hit a jumper to extend the margin to six.
The Warriors' Esther Lee managed a quick turn-around on consecutive trips with a 3-point basket and a pull up jumper on the break to bring the game within a point, once again.
Westmont grabbed its first lead in nearly 24 minutes by way of a Cantiez drive and finish at 9:15, but Ballestero snatched it back (56-55) with two makes from the line just over three minutes later.
The see-saw was in full motion over the next two minutes until Timmermans drew a foul and hit a pair to lock the 60-57 edge for Vanguard.
In possession of the ball with just a minute on the clock, VU called a play and got a good look at a three from Alfafara, but it missed just short. A tough box out, however, caused a Warriors' foul and put Timmermans on the line.
Timmermans hit the pair and A. Drennan picked up a clutch steal the next trip down. Drennan rebounded a Timmermans' miss in the final seconds and hit one of two of her free throws to secure the 63-57 victory and Championship for the Blue and Gold.
Ballestero finished the game with 22 points on 8-for13 shooting and added nine rebounds. A. Drennan pulled 11 off of the glass and was one point shy of the double-double with nine. Timmermans scored 14 and senior Maree Drennan (Wheelers Hill, Australia) tallied eight rebounds while defending Canitez.
Canitez posted the games' only double-double, with 19 points and 12 rebounds. She also registered two steals, two blocks and two assists for Westmont.
WC's Lee and Celina Gougis had 15 and 10 points, respectively, for the Warriors.
Both teams will travel to Frankfurt, Ky. for the 2012-13 NAIA Women's Basketball National Championship which begin next Wednesday.
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