BAKERSFIELD In a season of heart-stopping victories, the Murrieta Valley girls basketball team finally saw a stop it couldn't get.
The Nighthawks' dream season come to an end against one of the best teams --- and players --- in the state, as 6-foot-3 senior center Erica McCall erupted for 37 points, 19 rebounds and 11 blocks to lead top-seeded Bakersfield Ridgeview past visiting No. 8 Murrieta Valley, 58-40, in a CIF Southern California regional quarterfinal Saturday night.
Murrieta Valley simply had no answer for McCall, a Stanford-bound McDonald's All-American, as the Wolf Pack jumped to a double-digit lead in the first quarter it never relinquished. The Nighthawks did respond in the second half, cutting the deficit to 12 points in the third quarter, but they couldn't get any closer.
Ridgeview (28-3) certainly posed the toughest test Murrieta Valley (27-6) had seen this season. And though the Nighthawks finished on the wrong end in this battle of Division II section champions, they held positive thoughts afterward.
"I'm never going to forget this," said senior forward Karen Wolf, who scored a team-high 10 points. "I've talked about --- from being a freshman to a senior --- the journey I've been on personally, and with this team. It's just been amazing."
So was McCall, whose long reach and tremendous footwork allowed her to dominate the Nighthawks in the paint ---- no matter what coach Scott Richards threw at her defensively.
McCall had a double-double Saturday night ---- by the end of the first quarter. She shot 14-of-21 from the field, had 14 first-half rebounds, tallied 11 blocks, and, just for good measure, stepped out and hit a 3-pointer on her second field-goal attempt of the night.
"She's amazing," Richards said. "We tried every defense we had against her."
McCall pointed to her own team's defense, which played a pressing man scheme, as the key Saturday night. The Wolf Pack forced an uncharacteristic number of turnovers from the Nighthawks ---- 17 overall ---- and held them to 6-of-21 shooting from the field in the first half. Ridgeview's percentage wasn't much better at 13-for-36, but having 15 attempts was a huge boost.
"This was definitely one of our better defensive nights," McCall said. "And coming into this game, we definitely had a lot of energy."
The Nighthawks appeared a little shellshocked early and picked things up in the second half after trailing 30-14 at the break. With McCall on the bench after tweaking her knee late in the second quarter --- she said afterward she'll be fine for the next round ---- the Nighthawks twice got the lead down to 12, and they ended the third quarter trailing 41-28 after Aliah Marshall scored off a steal.
But McCall added another 10 points in the fourth quarter as Ridgeview put the game out of reach.
"I think in the first half, we were definitely a little out of our element," Richards said. "We talked about it at halftime, and I told them, 'This is the last 16 minutes of the game. There's no bickering. You work as hard as you can out there, and whatever happens, happens. But for you seniors, you're going to remember the last 16 minutes for the rest of your life.
"They went out there, and I thought they had a great second half."
Ridgeview advanced to Tuesday's Division II SoCal semifinal at home against Riverside North. Murrieta Valley ended its season in the second game of the state tournament, with its first section championship, won eight days agao against Culver City, in tow.
"Above all else, we have a CIF championship that we won, and that was our main goal," Richards said. "State is just a little extra cherry on top. For us to not only get there, but win our first (state tournery) game in history is awesome."