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La Costa Canyon seeks happier ending

02/23/2013, 3:42pm PST
By Greg Ball, Special to the U-T

No. 1 Mavericks back in section semis a year after hearts broken.

La Costa Canyon's Esther Wofford drives to the basket as Chanel Enriquez of Mt. Carmel plays defense.

The sequence must play out in Taylor Pierce’s head like one of those recurring dreams in which everything is going right — until the alarm jolts you out of your sleep and cuts it short.

In the dream, Pierce is a freshman and her La Costa Canyon High girls basketball team has advanced to the CIF San Diego Section Division II semifinals. LCC is down by one with seven seconds to play when a player drives down the court and loses control of the ball. Teammate Matti Haglund makes a spectacular save going out of bounds and passes to the only player she can find — Pierce, who hasn’t scored all night. The green shooting guard puts up a fallaway jumper that goes in at the buzzer, and she is swarmed by her teammates.

That pesky alarm beckons, though, in the form of the referees who quickly rule that Pierce didn’t get the shot off in time. And just like that, Pierce is wide awake, her team’s season is over, and the Mavericks’ chances for a second straight section title are squashed.

Pierce remembers the details all too well, because it wasn’t a dream. Having had a year to reflect on the harsh reality of last year’s semifinal loss to Serra, she and the Mavericks don’t have to look far for motivation this season.

After securing a 68-49 quarterfinal victory over Mt. Carmel on Friday, third-seeded LCC will get another chance in the D-II semis on Tuesday. The Mavericks (28-2) will visit second-seeded Westview (26-3) with a trip to the title game on the line.

“It was worse than just losing,” Pierce said, recalling last year’s heartbreaking semis defeat.

On Friday, she led LCC with 21 points and drained five 3-pointers. The Mavericks led by as many as 23 points early in the second half, but let Mt. Carmel back into the game and saw their lead trimmed to seven midway through the fourth quarter.

Pierce said she didn’t want to allow opponents to hang around and put her team in a situation like last year’s semis, needing a last-second shot to win. Mavericks coach Mario Flores admitted that his team, ranked No. 1 in the county by U-T San Diego, at times has lost focus and allowed games to be closer than they should.

“We get a lead, and it’s like, for lack of a better word, we get bored or something,” Flores said. “We lose focus and we stop shooting.”

Flores doesn’t expect lack of intensity to be a problem in Tuesday’s semis, and he knows he has a team that is built for sustained success. Pierce is averaging 15.7 points per game, with frontcourt mate Esther Wofford averaging 14.9 and center Savannah Irwin giving LCC nearly a double-double every game. The Mavericks are at their best when they use defensive pressure to create offensive opportunities, and their 20 consecutive victories show that they know their strengths.

A victory to get to the final would be a dream. Anything after that would be a bonus.

“It would probably feel like such a big accomplishment, just to know you’re the best team in Division II,” Pierce said. “It would be a great feeling.”

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