Mark Trakh, Brea-Olinda High School girls' basketball coach, couldn't have been happier.
OK. Maybe if he had just won the lottery . . . maybe.
The Wildcats defeated Foothill Friday night, 54-50, to win the Southern Section 3-A title in Cal Poly Pomona's Kellogg Gym.
Trakh, never one to hide his emotions, ran onto the court and did a great Jim Valvano imitation, frantically searching for someone to hug. He finally got to one player, and within seconds, the entire Brea team was huddled on the gym floor, all giggles and tears.
This was the Wildcats' fourth straight appearance in a Southern Section final. They had lost on all three previous occasions, including last season's embarrassing 63-34 loss to Foothill.
Trakh had said his team's incentive all season had been to get back in the final and beat Foothill.
And how important was this game to Trakh?
"If Brea losses the game, they better keep all sharp objects away from him," someone at courtside said.
Foothill got off to a fast start as center Chris McFerson scored her team's first four points. McFerson scored 28 points in last year's Foothill win, breaking back some bad memories for Trakh.
"Right away I'm thinking, uh, oh, here we go again," Trakh said.
But, unlike the last final, Brea had enough size to compete under the basket. Forward Kristen McPhee and center Susan Tousey made McFerson work much harder for her shots this time.
"Chris had a lot more defensive pressure this time," said Sheila Adams, Foothill coach. "She had two and three people hanging on her every time she got the ball."
McFerson still led all scorers with 19 points and had 20 rebounds.
But it was a trapping 1-3-1 zone designed to neutralize McFerson that ultimately gave Brea the win.
Tousey, who scored six points, got her fourth foul with four minutes left in the third quarter with Brea leading, 33-29.
Tousey was removed and with half of Brea's inside height gone, Foothill immediately started to force the ball into the key. Forward Stephanie Fleischaker scored on a layup with 3:58 left in the third quarter to tie the score at 33-33.
Brea took a 39-37 lead after three quarters thanks to Carrie Egan's layup off a steal at the buzzer.
Tousey remained on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter, but Brea came out in its 1-3-1 zone.
Foothill turned the ball over on its first five possessions. The Knights had trouble handling the ball all night, committing 22 turnovers.
Brea outscored the Knights, 8-2, in the first three minutes of the quarter. The Wildcats soon had a 47-39 lead, their biggest of the game.
"I really think the zone turned things around," Trakh said. "It changed their passing angles and caused a lot of turnovers."
Adams didn't think the zone caused the Knights to give the ball away.
"It's something we've done all season," she said. "We'll make a turnover at a crucial time for no reason. With no pressure at all. It's hard to figure out."
So was the game. Foothill outrebounded Brea, 48-22, a statistic that would usually mean a victory. But Foothill's turnovers negated their rebounding superiority.
Egan led Brea with 15 points, including two 20-foot jump shots as Brea took its eight-point lead. Point guard Charlene Schuessler, who played an excellent all-around game, scored 13, and McPhee had 12.
"I talked to our assistant principal after, and he said they'd extend my contract, so I guess I saved my job." he said.
He also may have saved himself from some sleepless nights.
"I'll sleep well tonight--a lot better than I've slept the past three years at this time," Trakh said.