When it was all over, Jenna Dunbar didn’t rush to celebrate with her teammates.
The Mission Prep girls basketball team’s group hug near the bench was missing the player that spurred the Royals to a CIF-Southern Section Division 4A quarterfinal playoff victory, helping them finally beat Morro Bay, 43-36, on Saturday.
Instead, Dunbar was embracing Megan Hansen at half court, consoling the rival point guard with a few hushed words as the Pirates senior wept into her own hands.
“She’s probably one of my best friends, and we’re always there for each other,” said Dunbar, a junior. “I just said, ‘College. I want to play with you in college. Let’s get it together for college.’ I want to go to Westmont with her and be awesome.”
Dunbar scored a game-high 25 points, including four 3-pointers, and snatched 10 steals to eclipse Hansen’s 11 points and help Mission Prep (22-5) erase a four-point halftime deficit.
Bri Harvey had six points and a team-high eight rebounds for the Royals, who also got five points from Kaylee Williams.
Nicki Bloom had eight points, and 6-foot-2 center Hannah Gilbert had six for the Pirates (20-6).
The friendship of Dunbar and Hansen was the undercurrent of what has become a budding rivalry between two young teams featuring just one senior apiece.
Dunbar and Hansen first met on the basketball court and have never attended the same school.
But they quickly realized how much they had in common and now spend free time together hanging out and sharing their love for the beach.
After the Cowitz Court lights were dimmed, Dunbar was even lobbying for Hansen to accompany Mission Prep for Wednesday’s semifinal game at No. 1 Oaks Christian, which beat Burroughs 62-29.
“I look for them to go down there and give Oaks Christian everything they can handle,” Pirates coach Cary Nerelli said. “I know we were going to, so I would expect the same with them.”
The mutual respect was clear from the top down.
Both coaches had hoped the first-ever postseason meeting between their two programs would have a chance to happen in a later round.
Morro Bay’s No. 6 sectional ranking turned out to be trumped in the seeding process by the Pirates’ two losses to Santa Ynez and their second-place Los Padres League finish.
“I think it’s just sad because Morro Bay is a very good team,” Royals coach John Krossa said, “and I think they should still be playing. I don’t want them to be playing before us, but I think they should be in another bracket still going, and I think that’s unfortunate.”
Nerelli looked on his way to securing a third straight win this season over his high school alma mater.
Mission Prep was on a roll, having won six straight since a 38-37 last-minute home loss to Morro Bay last month and 15 of 16 overall, but the Pirates used their 1-2-2 matchup zone to dictate the tempo early on.
Struggling to find open shots, Mission Prep made just one field goal in the first quarter and fell behind 14-8 after a rainbow 3-pointer by Hansen from a foot behind the line at the top of the key.
Familiarity between the two teams and a failure to pull away prompted Nerelli to say the two knew each other so well, “we know when each other’s gonna burp.”
Krossa knew his team had to push the tempo and did so by turning up the defensive pressure in the second half.
Morro Bay never found an answer for Mission Prep’s full-court press and half-court traps as Dunbar stepped in front of pass after pass and the Royals’ post defenders denied Gilbert the ball down low.
“We panicked a little bit,” Nerelli said. “The one thing that makes a press work is panic. If you keep your poise, then you can fight through a press and turn it into your offense. Mission did just a great job of being a little quicker than we were and being in the right place.”
Using turnovers to start the Royals’ break, Dunbar exploded for 11 points in the third quarter alone.
A nine-point Mission Prep lead was whittled to three on back-to-back 3-pointers by Bloom, but Dunbar answered with one of her own to close the third quarter.
A fourth-quarter 3-pointer by Dunbar pushed the lead back to nine with five minutes left in the game.
“We did everything we could defensively to stop her,” Nerelli said. “She just rose above. My compliments are to her and her effort and to her teammates. Mission’s a class act and we respect them. Jenna was just able to take control in that second half, and it just spelled curtains for us.”