Forward Melissa Fejdasz led an impressive third quarter showing Tuesday night that carried La Quinta High School to a 50-33 win over Cajon and moved the Aztecs into the Southern Section's girls basketball 2-A division championship game on Friday night at the Long Beach Arena.
The Aztecs (26-4) will meet San Luis Obispo (24-3) at 5 p.m. in the title game. San Luis Obispo advanced with a 45-43 win over Chino.
For two quarters, it appeared as if neither La Quinta or Cajon had any intentions of going to Long Beach. Both shot miserably and looked like anything but a championship team. Cajon made only 4 of 28 shots in the half while La Quinta was only slightly better with a 9 for 33 performance.
But with Fejdasz's and Pam Waltz's third-quarter shooting the Aztecs ran away from Cajon in front of about 300 fans at Los Amigos High.
Fejdasz made six straight shots in the third quarter and dominated play inside. Waltz added three outside jump shots. When Fejdasz drove around Cajon's Yvette Palmore for a short bank shot, La Quinta had a 31-15 lead and the rout was on.
Waltz had earlier given the Aztecs a 12-point cushion with three straight shots from the 15-foot range and suddenly La Quinta was looking like a champion. The Aztecs made 9 of 14 shot attempts in the third quarter and outscored Cajon, 18-6, to reach the title game for the first time under Coach Mike Linck.
Linck has compiled a 90-18 record in four seasons at La Quinta, but he said he never expected this year's team to reach the final.
"Last year's team was far superior," he said. "I'm as proud as can be of this group. They exceeded all my expectations. When the season started, I had high expectations, but then my 6-3 center (Julia Monahan) transferred to Laguna Hills and Kris Takayama missed 10 games because she went out for the swim team.
"This team has also overcome adversity. We had to travel 220 miles to play Lompoc last Saturday and fell behind by 16 points. The light was out above one of the baskets, but we came back and won."
Linck, who has never coached a player who has gone on to play at a four-year college, credited the Aztecs' ability to screen off and control the boards for the win over Cajon.
"We flat pounded the boards," he said. "We only gave them one shot and did a good defensive job on Palmore. We were well-prepared for this game."
Palmore had averaged 30 points per game, but had to work hard to get 22 points against the Aztecs. She made only 6 of 24 shot attempts and scored 12 of her points in the last quarter against second-string players.
Fejdasz led all scorers with 23 points, had 14 rebounds and made 11 of 16 shot attempts. Teammate Kim Takayama directed the Aztecs' offense at her point guard position and threw some nice passes.
With Fejdasz in the lineup, the Aztecs won 40 consecutive Garden Grove League games in four years. She has scored more than 1,400 points in her career and has more than 900 rebounds.
"Melissa is the best power forward in Orange County," Linck said, "and Kim is the best point guard in the 2-A division. Kim has great instincts and I haven't seen a better dribbler all year."
The duo are typical of the fine female athletes at La Quinta this season. Earlier this year, the Aztecs won a Southern Section tennis title. The girls' soccer team defeated Camarillo, 3-1, to advance to the 3-A division championship game Saturday.
"Everybody tells me our softball team might be the best of them all," Aztec athletic director Jim Perry said.