When St. Joseph High joined the PAC 7 before the start of this season, coaches anticipated the already-strong league becoming one of the absolute toughest for girls basketball throughout Southern California.
That expectation came to fruition, and the Knights proved to be the toughest team of all.
St. Joseph completed an undefeated run through the PAC 7 on Friday night, defeating Arroyo Grande, the three-time defending league champion, 57-25 before a standing-room-only crowd at James Gym.
All but two of the PAC 7’s teams were ranked in Monday’s CIF-Southern Section divisional polls. St. Joseph started the week tied with Junipero Serra High of Gardena for the No. 1 spot in Division 3AA, with Arroyo Grande at No. 4 in the same classification.
The Eagles (19-5, 9-3) lost 57-48 to the Knights (20-5, 12-0) on Jan. 21 during the first round of league play, despite leading 23-19 at halftime of that one.
On Friday, St. Joseph got out to a 27-9 lead before the end of the first half.
“They played extremely well,” Arroyo Grande coach Dwight MacDonald said. “We didn’t play as well as I anticipated we’d play, but they did a lot of really good things.”
Aly Beebe, the Knights’ star center, showed why she’s widely considered one of the top college prospects in the country.
The 6-foot-3 junior, who’s rated by ESPNU as the 13th-best recruit in the nation for the class of 2012, regardless of position, had 22 points in the win. She was also consistently a factor on defense, altering numerous shots down low with her extensive reach.
“We don’t see players like that but twice a year,” MacDonald said. “We played in two of the top tournaments in the state of California, over at Clovis West and (the Tournament of Champions) in Santa Barbara, and there’s no one like her.
“It’s great having to play against her. It’s a great challenge for the girls.”
Heather Madrigal had 12 points for St. Joseph, and Brianna Bognuda added 10.
Arroyo Grande junior center Emma Weinreich, who guarded Beebe for much of the night, battled throughout, scoring a team-best 10 points before fouling out.
Lindsey Wolf scored six points for the Eagles, and Sarah Rodriguez added five in the loss.
The Knights led 44-20 after three quarters.
“At times we needed to be patient with the ball, and we weren’t patient,” MacDonald said. “We got behind, and we kind of panicked, I think. We kind of panicked and took some shots we didn’t need to take, and it kind of snowballed.”
Last year, after dominating in the Los Padres League, the Knights made it to the semifinals of the regional Division 4 tournament.
Much of the success has had to do with the presence of Beebe, who came into the game leading the PAC 7 in scoring (20.2 points per game), rebounding (11.6 per game) and blocks (2.7 per game).
Arroyo Grande’s only other league defeat came 55-49 at Atascadero on Feb. 2. The Eagles will find out their first-round postseason opponent Sunday, when the divisional playoff pairings are announced by the Southern Section office.
“We got second place in an outstanding PAC 7 league,” MacDonald said. “This is the first game all season that we haven’t been really competitive, but they’re an outstanding team.”