ANAHEIM — Janae’ Sharpe acted as if she'd been there before. In reality, nobody in the history of the Rialto girls' basketball program history had reached that point.
With the score tied and 17 seconds remaining in the Southern Section Division 2AA championship game, Sharpe took the inbounds pass, calmly let about nine seconds tick off the clock before crossing halfcourt, paused again at the three-point line with about three seconds remaining and then drove into the lane, letting go of a five-foot pull-up jumper that rolled in at the buzzer, giving Rialto a 55-53 victory against Ventura Buena at the Anaheim Convention Center.
It was a sensational end to the Knights’ first-ever section final appearance.
“I just had to get to the rim,” Sharpe said.
The end was fitting considering how the final quarter played out.
Neither team led by more than three points in the last eight minutes, which featured five ties and seven lead changes.
Taylor McGuire sank back-to-back three-point baskets to give second-seeded Buena (24-7) a 49-46 lead with 2:05 remaining. Rialto guard Summer Webb answered with a three-pointer to tie the score with 1:20 remaining.
Sharpe then stole the ball in the backcourt and passed to Webb for a layup. After the Bulldogs tied the score on two free throws by Gonzaga-bound guard Keani Albanez with 55 seconds left, Sharpe stole another pass under the Rialto basket and laid it in for a 55-53 lead.
McGuire tied the score one final time on a driving layup with 17 seconds remaining, setting up Sharpe’s final shot.
Before the play, Rialto coach Michael Anderson had one final set of instructions for Sharpe.
"You cannot pass this basketball," Anderson told his star guard.
With Cynthia Mora guarding Sharpe from before halfcourt, the top-seeded Knights (30-3) faked a high screen and then cleared out for Sharpe to penetrate. The play worked to perfection.
“It’s a shame they had the ball last,” said Buena coach David Guenther.
Sharpe, who came in averaging 26 points, seven rebounds, 10 steals and 7.6 assists per game, finished with 23 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals. Webb scored 18 points, helping to offset an off-night for center Denae Williams, who had six points but pulled down 16 rebounds.
“We’ve been accomplishing a lot of things but this is the icing on the cake,” said Rialto senior Brittani Walker.
McGuire and Albanez were visibly upset after the game and didn’t have a lot to say to reporters, but that didn’t surprise Guenther.
“We have two competitors who don’t like losing,” he said.
McGuire finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. Albanez had 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Both teams advanced to the Southern California Regional playoffs beginning next week.