Chelsea Barnes has had a tendency to be a slow-starter, according to her coach, Mike James.
That was all right Wednesday night, though, because Barnes sure finished well.
Barnes scored 17 of her game-high 22 points in the second half to lead Diamond Ranch High of Pomona to a 40-36 win at Arroyo Grande in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA girls basketball playoffs.
“She starts slow every game; it drives us crazy, but we’ve learned to deal with it,” James said with a smile. “Once she gets warmed up, she gets going. She’s the second-leading scorer in Division 3AA, so you know at some point she’s going to get it going.”
A 5-foot-10 junior forward, Barnes came into the game averaging 19.2 points, and is being recruited by programs such as Loyola Marymount, St. Mary’s and UC Irvine.
The Eagles (21-6) led 26-17 at halftime, and 30-19 with under three minutes remaining in the third quarter. That’s when Barnes began to trigger the Panthers’ rally.
She beat the buzzer at the end of the third with a putback of an offensive rebound to cut the lead to 32-28. Then, with nearly six minutes left in the fourth, she went coast-to-coast up the floor for a layup, plus the foul, sinking the free throw to bring Diamond Ranch within 33-31.
The play sent a sizable contingent of Diamond Ranch followers into a frenzy.
“Oh, it was huge,” James said. “That kind of changed the momentum of the game and got us going a little bit, got our kids fired up and our fans fired up. This is a tough place to play.”
A mid-range jumper by Barnes soon afterward trimmed the Arroyo Grande advantage to 34-33, and then Barnes — who else? — converted on a spin move into the lane to give the Panthers a 35-34 lead with about two-and-a-half minutes to go.
A driving layup by Madi Ventura put Arroyo Grande back up 36-35 coming out of a timeout, but Erika Williams — Diamond Ranch’s second-leading scorer — hit a pair of free throws to reverse the one-point lead. Barnes then hit three of four free throws in the final minute to put the game on ice.
Diamond Ranch advanced to face either second-seeded Junipero Serra of Gardena or seventh-seeded Muir of Pasadena in Saturday night’s semifinals.
For Arroyo Grande, Maddie Carr and Emma Weinreich each scored a team-best eight points, and Lindsey Wolf and Ventura both finished with six.
“They’re a good team,” James said. “They’ve been here before, and those kids are going to be here again. They played their hearts out just like we did.”
The Eagles went 3 of 11 from the free-throw line, compared to Diamond Ranch’s 18 of 29.
“They gave a great effort,” Eagles coach Dwight MacDonald said of his team. “We just missed shots that, a lot of times, we make.”
Arroyo Grande, which came into the season having won the past three PAC 7 championships, went 9-3 to finish second in the league, behind only newcomer St. Joseph, the division’s top seed and a squad that has recently been in the others category in the top-20 statewide rankings of Cal-Hi Sports.
For much of the Eagles’ run through league play, Carr, Haley MacDonald, Weinreich and Wolf had a variety of injuries, ranging from a dislocated wrist bone to a turf toe, but all of them fought through it on the court.
“I’ve got four girls injured right now, and no one knows it because they’re tough,” an emotional coach MacDonald said while praising his players. “All four girls are playing with a lot of pain.”
The Eagles got to the quarterfinals by ousting Century of Santa Ana 55-35 in the opening round and then going on the road to eliminate Peninsula of Palos Verdes 44-40.
“The girls gave a great effort,” MacDonald said. “We lost to a very good team, and it was a pleasure coaching these guys. They’re a great group.”