Philip George / Roundup
The situation was all too familiar.
Just one year ago, the Brahmas ventured to San Luis Obispo, with a seemingly firm grasp on their first ever postseason berth. A victory against fourth-place Cuesta College in the season’s finale was the only hurdle Pierce College had to climb in order to achieve history.
And though they carried a one-point lead into the final 10 seconds of the game, the Brahmas failed to shut the door. Cuesta 72, Pierce 71. On the outside looking in once again.
“We came in and we were sure we had the game,” recalled sophomore center Tiara Richardson. “We were really cocky and didn’t take the game as seriously as we should have.”
“We came out lacksidasical and they came out ready to play,” added sophomore forward Erin Thompson.
But with Cuesta coming to town for Saturday night’s season finale, one win separating Pierce from history once again, the Brahmas were not about to make the same mistake twice.
“We’re going to take this game the most serious,” Richardson said prior to the game. “This is the most important game all season — bigger than the Ventura game or the Santa Barbara game. We’ve got to make a statement.”
With a 105-45 rout of the Cougars, the Brahmas’ statement rang loud and clear.
On sophomore night at the South Gym, head coach Jim Couch honored his five sophomores—Bridget Jenkins, Kim Rodriguez, Tierra Battle, Richardson and Thompson—by placing them all in the starting lineup for the first time this season.
Before anyone could blink, those five sophomores staked Pierce to a 23-2 advantage.
“The sophomores played with a lot of heart and a lot of aggression, especially after the last couple of games coming out slow,” said assistant head coach Ralph Wesson. “We came out firing on all cylinders tonight.”
The Brahmas reverted back to their customary rotation of players after the game’s first five minutes, but the momentum kept up as Pierce never trailed the Cougars and cruised to an easy 60-point victory.
“We knew that we had to come out and win,” Richardson said. “We came out and executed our offense, we shared the ball and played as a team.
“We did everything we said we were going to do. We did it.”
The victory over Cuesta culminated a historic season in which the Brahmas went 9-3 in conference play, 23-9 overall, and finished second in the Western State Conference North Division.
But now, the Brahmas enter unfamiliar territory as they advance to the postseason for the first time in Pierce women’s basketball history.
“This is what we came here for and I think we finally accomplished it,” said Couch, who is finishing out his 11th season as the Brahmas’ head coach. “When we first came here, we wanted to turn this program around and we’re finally on that route.”
Postseason basketball is not unfamiliar to Couch.
He last saw the promised land in 1997 when he coached Bellarmine-Jefferson High School in Burbank to the California Interscholastic Federation title and the best record in California.
Couch left Bellarmine-Jefferson following that season to begin a new chapter with Pierce.
“I figured we had reached the top so it was time for me to go,” he said.
For Wesson, who is finishing his eighth year with the Brahmas, it has been a long time coming.
“Eight years is a long time,” he said. “It’s a long suffering. We paid our dues back in the day and we’ve been on the opposite end of this lots of times. It’s a relief to finally say we’re a playoff team.”
The Brahmas will not know until tomorrow who, where or when they will play next, but they do know that the competition they will face in the postseason will be markedly superior to the opponents they defeated down the stretch.
“We have to pick up the intensity in practice,” Wesson said. “The girls have to realize that this is a whole new season and one loss and we’re done. We want to go up to Fresno. Right now, it’s going to be Fresno or bust.”
The state championship tournament will be taking place in Fresno on March 13-15 and will admit four teams from each of the southern and northern regions. Pierce must win two games in the single-elimination regional bracket to advance to the south’s final four.