LAKE ELSINORE -- No one could blame Temescal Canyon girls basketball coach Sarah Brust for grabbing the Titan Classic championship trophy and running with it after the Titans held on for a 52-49 victory over Murrieta Valley in Friday night's final.
"My girls were just excited and (after shaking hands with the other team), we just wanted to go celebrate," Brust said. "The girls have worked really hard for this, and I am not sure how long it has been since we won our own tournament."
After battling back from a five-point halftime deficit, the Titans defense shined late to preserve the victory.
Murrieta Valley's Katie Clark connected on 1 of 2 free throws with a little more than a minute left, but the Nighthawks battled for the loose ball and gained control. Karen Wolf missed on a short layup and the ball was tipped out to Brianna Alejandre, who fired a 3-pointer that went in and out, before the Nighthawks again controlled the ball with 30 seconds left.
"We kept giving them three, four and five shots off of rebounds," Brust said. "I kept telling them to get the ball but we really had to battle late."
On the ensuing play, Murrieta Valley's Amber Wharton got an open look and fired up a 3-pointer from the corner, but the ball hit the rim and bounced out. Temescal Canyon's Onu Wami pulled down the rebound and Brust called timeout.
"I just wanted to calm them down," Brust said of the timeout. "They were playing strong, I just wanted to get them a quick rest."
Temescal Canyon had a chance to put the game away when Briana Mulvey was put on the line with 17 seconds left but missed the free throw giving the Nighthawks one last chance.
"We got some good looks at the basket (in the final minutes)," Murrieta Valley coach Scott Richards said. "Unfortunately, they just wouldn't fall in the basket."
Off the missed Mulvey free throw, Clark grabbed the rebound and raced the length of the court with three defenders on her heels. As she tossed up the layup, Temescal Canyon's Arica Nassar blocked the shot and knocked it out of bounds. On the inbound pass, the Titans defense forced Alejandre to fire up an off-balance shot at the buzzer that missed.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game (against Temescal Canyon) and our girls got a little tired late but I felt we played a strong game," Richards said.
Murrieta Valley jumped out early, opening up a four-point lead after one and extending to five at halftime. Clark who scored her team's entire 13 points in the second quarter.
"I told my girls at halftime that we needed to keep the pressure up on (Temescal Canyon)," Richards said. "We tried to come out as strong as we did (in the first half), it was just a matter of us shutting down the boards and we didn't do that tonight."
Brust added that Clark's second-quarter spurt concerned her at halftime.
"She was hot and we did everything we could to try and slow her down (in the second)," Brust said. "She was getting to the basket and got some good looks that she was hitting the shots when we were putting two, three people in her way."
Nassar led the Titans with 28 points and 13 rebounds while Mary Manjarrez added 10 points and Jessica Johnson grabbed seven rebounds.
"This is a big game for us to build upon for league play," Brust said. "The girls are starting to think they can play with anyone and can be a great team, which is what I want for them. This is a huge step and it is great to bring this trophy back home."