Dribbling to the wing, Jenna Dunbar’s right leg buckled, and the Mission Prep half of an overstuffed Templeton gymnasium gasped for breath.
People stood on their toes for a glimpse of the crumpled senior guard, whose lower body was obstructed by the chairs on he Royals’ bench. One woman yelled for a paramedic. Could it be a knee?
Holding a double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter of an emotionally charged CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA semifinal playoff game over the host Eagles, Mission Prep head coach John Krossa wasn’t worried — mostly.
“I was 90 percent sure it was a cramp,” Krossa said. “Cramps had been bothering her earlier. Her dad scared me a little bit because he ran down there and said, ‘It’s her Achilles! It’s her Achilles!’ and that scared me.”
But after a huge second quarter run that put the Royals in the lead for good, there was little else that scared Krossa and company in a 58-46 victory Saturday night.
A little treatment from the trainer and Dunbar was back on the floor to finish off a young Templeton team making an unprecedented foray into championship relevancy.
Dunbar, a senior point guard averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game, had 15 of her game-high 16 points and four 3-pointers in the first half, and Mission Prep (28-1) turned a five point deficit into a 10-point lead with a 23-8 run in the second quarter.
Senior forward Bri Harvey got the run started by scoring inside, racking up 11 of her 15 points in the second quarter alone. Fellow senior Kaylee Williams finished with nine points, and Connor Storlie had eight.
“Everybody was very nervous at the beginning, including myself,” Dunbar said. “Second quarter, instead of having to settle for 3s, we were able to get our girls cutting and posting up, and once we got it inside to Bri and Connor, they couldn’t stop it because you go inside and then kick it back out, and it opens everything else.”
When the Eagles (22-8) went to a box-and-1 defense against Dunbar in the second half, the rest of the Royals had to figure out how to maintain the lead without her contributions.
Holding Mission Prep to just three third-quarter field goals, Templeton was able to cut the lead to single digits, but when Eagles sophomore point guard Lauren Stuedemann picked up three quick charges and fouled out with 5:28 left in the game, the Royals pulled away.
“It was hard,” Templeton center Mari Stewart said of losing Stuedemann so early, “but we knew that one of us had to step up, all of us really stepped up, and we just had to do this if we really wanted it.”
Stewart, a sophomore, scored nine of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter after Stuedemann’s ejection, Stuedemann finished with 11, and Autumn Russell, another sophomore, scored 13.
Girls basketball, one of the few sports at Templeton that doesn’t have a championship banner for a league or section title hanging in the gym, had not been a successful sport in the softball-crazed community.
But it didn’t stop the locals from supporting the Eagles as if they’ve been championship material all along.
“I’ve never seen it this full in my life,” Stewart said. “It was really upbeat, a little nerve wracking with all the people, but it was a lot of fun. I’m glad our whole community got to be a part of it.”
Not everyone. The line for tickets crawled around the building half an hour before tipoff, and doors had to be closed when they ran out of seats.
The scuttlebutt in the gym had this being the matchup of the two best teams in the division. With one more game to go in the playoff bracket, Mission Prep stayed away from making those kinds of comments, but there was no denying the electricity of the moment.
“I’ve been coaching six years, I have made it to a state championship,” Krossa said. “I’ve never had this atmosphere. We’ve had amazing games at our place, but we’ve never turned anybody away. This atmosphere was absolutely amazing.
“We want to go through the best teams. We want a CIF championship to mean something. You’ve got to go through the best to get there, and this was a great team. Templeton played so hard and so well.”