‘A dream come true’: Brea Olinda girls basketball teams make 10th state title a special one

SACRAMENTO – He won one for his own thumb, and his program earned one for its other thumb.

But maybe the secret to success for the Brea Olinda girls basketball team and Coach Jeff Sink is that it has never, ever felt like a routine.

“It doesn’t get old,” Sink said. “I get old, clearly. But the winning and the working doesn’t get old. This is the nicest group of kids. They’re the nicest and the youngest I’ve ever worked with.”

That young group of kids brought home Brea’s 10th state championship in girls basketball Thursday, as the Ladycats took control from the outset and dominated St. Francis of Sacramento, 64-51, to win the CIF State Division I championship at Sleep Train Arena.

The team’s lone senior, Arizona State-bound guard Reili Richardson, scored a game-high 26 points to go with nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. Sophomore Tyiona Watkins scored 22 points and fellow sophomore Krislyn Marsh added 12 points and 12 rebounds.

For Richardson, the victory not only meant she’ll leave Brea with a state crown, but also avenged losing in the Division III championship game to Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland a year ago.

“It’s a dream come true,” Richardson said. “This is what I’ve wanted this whole year. From last year and losing, I just wanted to come back and win with such a young team and lead them.”

That she did, scoring 14 points in the first half and spearheading a defensive effort that set the tone.

Brea (29-4) scored the first eight points, led 14-8 after a quarter, and then scored 10 consecutive points to begin the second quarter en route to a 31-12 halftime lead. The Ladycats were especially tough on contesting shots, as they held St. Francis to a 17.2 percent clip from the field in the first half.

“We preach defense and rebounds,” said Sink, who coached his fifth state champion and Brea’s first since 2009. “I thought we set the tempo in the whole first half by trying to shut them down, and I thought we did a good job. You’re going to win games even if you play ugly offense, if you compete defensively.”

It did, at times, get ugly as a young Brea team played with a huge lead the whole way.

St. Francis (29-6) played hard until the end and its partisan crowd – its campus is just a few miles from Sleep Train Arena – stayed spirited. While the Troubadours never seriously threatened, they did cut the lead to 12 points late after trailing by as much as 23.

“It felt like the last 1:30 was like two hours,” Brea sophomore Janei Fuamatu said. “In that time, you have to focus on keeping the lead and being really precise.”

Australian exchange student Tia Hay led the Troubadors with 16 points, while Lauren Craig had nine points and 13 rebounds.

“We had dug a deep hole,” St. Francis coach Vic Pitton said. “That’s a long way to come back when you’re playing a really good team. We gave it everything we had, and we put on a flurry in the fourth quarter, but it was obviously too little, too late.”

For Brea, with everyone but Richardson slated to return, the future looks just as good as the past. Thursday marked the first Division I title after six in Division II and three in Division III for the Ladycats, who were a No. 6 seed in the Southern California regional.

“For a real young team, you would think that somewhere along the line you would drop one of those games,” Sink said of their playoff run. “But they have an intensity level and a sheer joy for competition that’s fun to see.”

Contact the writer: lnegri@pe.com

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