The Brea-Olinda High School girls basketball team's march to an undefeated season and a Southern Section 3-A championship was nearly derailed by Riverside Poly Tuesday night in Valencia High at Placentia.
Brea rallied to defeat the Bears, 65-64, in a semifinal game. And the march continues.
But this one was a struggle. It was only the second time the Wildcats were seriously challenged this season.
Before Tuesday only Foothill managed to give the Wildcats (29-0) a game and that was in the championship of the Brea Tournament in December. Brea won that one by two.
The only remaining obstacle to the Wildcats' perfect season is Foothill, which beat Palmdale, 54-50, in the other semifinal game Tuesday night. The teams meet Friday night in the Long Beach Arena.
For a short time in the fourth quarter, however, the Wildcats chances for advancing looked slim. They trailed, 58-52, with 4:26 left in the game.
But as they had done in that December game with Foothill, when they trailed by eight in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were able to pull out the victory.
Senior center Laura Thomas (16 points) and sophomore guard Carrie Egan (17) scored the baskets to key Brea's rally, but Kristen McPhee's rebound basket with 1:45 remaining put the Wildcats ahead for good.
Guard Char Scheussler and Egan made free throws down the stretch as the Wildcats led by as many as five points in the closing minutes.
Riverside Poly opened its lead by holding Brea scoreless for the first 3:34 of the fourth quarter.
The Bears' Aleshia Poole, who had a game-high 22 points, made four free throws and Adrianne Drake (15 points) made a basket with less than five minutes to play.
But the Bears (23-3) went scoreless until Poole sank two free throws with just 34 seconds left. Riverside Poly made just two field goals in the fourth quarter, scoring 8 of its 12 points on free throws.
Brea Coach Mark Trakh said he had a simple plan for the last few minutes--just let the Wildcats play.
"There were no Xs or Os--just go out and play," Trakh said.
"He let his kids play and we let our kids play," Trakh said.
Riverside Poly fell behind by as many as four points, 45-41, midway through the third quarter, but Coach Floyd Evans called timeout and the Bears regrouped. Riverside Poly rallied to tie the score at 52-52 at the end of the third quarter.
"I don't think there was that much difference in the two teams," Evans said. "(But) they were down, 58-52, and they did it."
The Wildcats may have made it past the semifinals, but Trakh still wants one more victory.
"I hope the third time is the charm," Trakh said of his team's trip to the finals. Brea has been to the 2-A final two straight years, having lost both times. Brea lost to Indio in last season's final. It also was the last time the Wildcats lost.