LAKE ELSINORE — What the Lakeside High girls' basketball team lacks in height, it makes up for in toughness.
The experienced Lancers, who came within one win of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA title game last year, met up Saturday with a Corona del Mar team that hadn't been on that stage before.
Five-foot-seven junior forward Victoria Sosa got nine rebounds in the first quarter alone, setting the tone against a CdM team that features 6-3 sophomore Natalia Bruening and 6-2 sophomore Krista Anderson. The Lakeside crowd chanted her name, "So-sa! So-sa!'
That same crowd rushed the floor as the No. 2-seeded hosts pulled away late for a 57-37 win, ending No. 6 CdM's season in the Division 3AA semifinal game at Lakeside High.
It was a big win for the Lancers (23-6), the Sunbelt League champion who advanced to the CIF finals for the first time in program history. And Coach Anthony Williams, who previously coached at Jurupa Valley before coming to Lakeside in 2008, said he recorded his 200th career win as a head coach.
Lakeside will play top-seeded Santa Barbara, which got past No. 12 Yorba Linda, 46-41, in the championship game next week.
"We got to this point last year," Williams said. "I didn't think we played particularly well, but we ran up against a great team in Alemany, so it was no shame in not coming out with a victory. We vowed to ourselves, with a majority of returners, that we would get back to this point this year and take the next step. That's what we did."
Lakeside pushed CdM (21-9) around in the first half, earning a 21-14 halftime advantage. The Lancers already had 12 offensive rebounds at the break.
For the game, the hosts owned a 37-30 rebounding advantage.
"We had worked all week on getting position and just being physical," Williams said. "I knew that [Bruening] was tall, but she's a little slim. I told Sosa, 'You should be able to out-muscle her.' We tried to push her off the spot, and then be strong enough to go get the rebound."
But the Sea Kings would mount a comeback. They got three-pointers from senior guard Keaton Gaughan and sophomore Kelly Tam, plus five points from Bruening, to tie the score at 27-27 late in the third quarter.
Lakeside had the answer with sophomore guard Tavian Lasley, who finished with a team-high 13 points. She nailed a three-pointer from the corner to give the Lancers a 30-27 advantage after three quarters. The Lancers then scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter as well, six of them coming off steals that resulted in easy layups.
Williams was patient with his leading scorer, senior guard Kianna Williams, who averages nearly 20 points per game. She finished with just eight on Saturday night, but six of those came in the fourth quarter. Lakewood freshman center Emma Merriweather, who stands 6-3, also had all eight of her points in the fourth quarter.
"We had some mental and defensive breakdowns," CdM Coach Mark Decker said. "We got away from what we wanted to do, and started throwing the ball around a little too much."
CdM, making its first CIF semifinal appearance since winning its lone CIF title in 1983, cut the deficit to eight after another three-pointer by Tam. But the Sea Kings couldn't get closer.
Bruening had 19 points and 12 rebounds for CdM, which was coming off a memorable 38-37 comeback upset win over No. 3 San Juan Hills in the quarterfinals Wednesday night.
The Sea Kings had a breakthrough season, winning six games in the Pacific Coast League, the most in Decker's eight seasons.
"First time beating Woodbridge, first time beating Northwood," Decker said. "A lot of firsts this year. A lot to be proud of."
There were plenty of misty eyes after CdM came out of the locker room. But Gaughan, who finished with five points, said she was so proud of her team. She is one of just three seniors, along with fellow guards Kate Thompson and Chanel Wosoughkia.
"Incredible year," Gaughan said. "I'm more proud than words can say. We've never made it this far, and I think this team is amazing as a whole, as a unit. We worked together well and we just have some amazing girls. I thought it was possible [to go this far at the start of the year]. Probable, no, but definitely possible. The fact that we're here just defies everything."