Vista Murrieta's Season Ends With Loss in Regional Final

Jaelyn Brown drives to the basket for two points in Vista Murrieta's CIF Regional Final game Saturday. Photos by Daniel Millhouse B...

Jaelyn Brown drives to the basket for two points in Vista Murrieta's CIF Regional Final game Saturday.
Photos by Daniel Millhouse

By Daniel Millhouse

The girls basketball team of Vista Murrieta High School traveled to Long Beach in hopes of making it to the State Championship in Sacramento, but the Broncos' momentum was derailed by the powerhouse program of Brea Olinda and they lost, 64-55, Saturday at the Pyramid.

Specifically, free throws ended up being the difference. Brea standout Reili Richardson shot 17 for 17 from the line, contributing to her 27 points scored overall. The Wildcats as a whole shot 22 for 26.

Ranked fifth in the state, Brea (28-4) featured a program that had already made it to the Southern California Finals 16 times in the past before Saturday's game. Vista Murrieta, on the other hand, was making its very first appearance in what was turning into a storybook type of season.

"You know we’ve done a lot of historical things this year," Vista Murrieta coach Kurt Ruth said during the postgame press conference. "We set the school record for wins this season. We are the first team in school history to advance to a regional final. Um, you know, are we a little disappointed right now? Yeah."

Vista Murrieta (30-5) started off strong, taking a quick 4-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game. They looked strong especially on defense, forcing three Wildcats turnovers and a charge that was taken by senior Jaelyn Brown. This would be the last time they had the lead all game.

Within 15 seconds, Brea quickly scored five points behind a 3-pointer by Jasmin Rachal, followed by a fast break layup by Richardson after Iyree Jarret stole the ball from the Broncos while they transitioned up court.

Rachal then hit two more 3-pointers within the next two and a half minutes, giving Brea an 11-0 run.

Brittney Reed (left) carried the team on her shoulders the rest of the opening quarter, scoring eight points in the final two minutes and keeping her team within reach of Brea with a score of 16-14.

The Broncos had several opportunities to tie up the score early in the second quarter, but they missed their first three shots.

Unfortunately for Vista Murrieta, Brea did not have the same problem. Richardson, who drove strong to the basket multiple times, put up 10 points in the second quarter alone, eight of which came from free throws.

Brea put together its biggest lead of the game after the Wildcats went on an 8-0 scoring run halfway through the second quarter, giving them a 28-18 lead.

This run was broken by Vista Murrieta’s Keilanei Cooper, who grabbed an offensive board after a Victoria Chea miss and put it right back up for two points.

After a quick free throw on the other end by Jarrett, the Broncos’ Brown scored twice in a row for her first points of the game. She grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in, followed by a 12-foot jumper 21 seconds later, putting the score at 29-24.

The Wildcats extended their lead to a score of 33-26 before the half ended.

Vista Murrieta cut into Brea’s lead during the third quarter, thanks to the hot hand of Cooper, who scored seven points in the quarter.

Outscoring their opponents 12-9 in the third quarter, this would be the only quarter that the Broncos outscored the Wildcats.

What turned out to be detrimental to the Broncos in the third was several foul calls that could have gone either way. That contributed to Cooper ending up with four fouls before the fourth quarter even started. This caused her to have to play with more caution, something she is not used to.

"The main reason why I was like more cautious on defense was because of my fouls," Cooper said after the game. Her ability to steal the ball in clutch situations have been instrumental in helping her team win in the past. "It made me feel more timid so I didn’t to like gamble so they could get open, easy shots, so I backed off of them."

"To be perfectly honest, I thought they (Brea) got bailed out on a lot of calls today and I don’t think I was the only one to believe that," Ruth mentioned while talking about how his team was limited when several players found themselves in foul trouble throughout the game. "And again, are they terrible calls? No, but they’re calls that could have gone either way."

Entering the fourth quarter with a 42-38 lead, the Wildcats found themselves on their heels for the first time since the start of the game.

On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Chea signaled for her team to spread out the offense. With some fancy dribbling, she drove the ball to the hoop, scoring on a layup and cutting the Brea lead in half.

With 6:33 left, Ulel attempted to tie the score up, but missed her short jumper. Cooper grabbed the offensive board, but missed the put back attempt which then was rebounded by Brown. She quickly put the ball back up, but also missed. Rachal grabbed the rebound, preventing Vista Murrieta from tying the score.

Richardson was fouled shortly after and sank 2 of her 9 free throws she would make in the quarter. This gave Brea a 44-40 lead.

Seconds later, Reed shot a jumper from eight feet out, nailing the shot while being fouled by Jarret. She made her free throw shot, putting the Broncos only one point down with 5:50 left in the game.

Richardson countered with a layup of her own to stretch the Brea lead to three.

After Reed attempted to put her team back within one, but failing to hit the shot, Rachal hit another 3-pointer on the other end to double the Wildcats lead with 4:34 left. Within the next minute and fifteen seconds, Watkins scored four more points for Brea, stretching the Brea lead to 7 with 3:15 left in the game.

Having trouble scoring throughout the game, Brown responded with her own four points within 43 seconds, closing the Brea lead down to 53-50 with only 2:02 left in the game.

Richardson once again found herself in charge of Brea’s destiny, this time scoring nine points in just over a minute to give her team a 63-55 lead and in the process, leading to Reed fouling out of the game with less than a minute left.

Vista Murrieta never recovered.

With a squad that consists of seven seniors, Vista Murrieta will have a very different look next season. This includes losing four starters: Reed, who will move on to Loyola Marymount; Brown, who will play for California University of Berkeley; Ulel, who will play for Cal State Fullerton, and team ball handler Chea.

"We all still have more basketball to go," Reed said dejectedly while pointing to Ulel during the postgame press conference. "Still college basketball -- but we had a good opportunity to just come to regionals and compete. Unfortunately, we just didn’t come out with a W, but it’s not the end."

Reed led her team with 22 points, while Cooper scored 14 and led the Broncos with eight rebounds. Ulel and Chea both had three steals each on the defensive side.

Along with her 27 points, Brea’s Richardson grabbed six rebounds and had five assists. Rachal scored 14, hit four 3-pointers, and snagged eight rebounds as well.

After the game, Brown was award the Victory with Honor Award for the Broncos. This was bittersweet as afterward, Vista Murrieta watched Brea's players accept their medals for the victory and the announcement that they would move on to play St. Francis High School in Sacramento for their second Division I State Championship appearance in a row.

Vista Murrieta players watched as Brea celebrated and many of the players realized that this would be the last time they would step on the basketball court together as a team.

"I think once they started handing out the awards, that’s when I really reflected on my four years," Reed said. "It’s been a good four years."

Vista Murrieta coach Kurt Ruth addresses the players during a timeout in Saturday's game.

Vista Murrieta captains and coaches pose with the runner-up plaque after Saturday's game.


Here is video from the postgame press conference with Brittney Reed, Nasrin Ulel, Keilani Cooper and coach Kurt Ruth:




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