SACRAMENTO -- The St. Francis girls basketball team did all it could to prepare for its Division II state championship game Saturday against talented and athletic Lynwood, even scrimmaging seven-on-five and eight-on-five to simulate the pressure.
But, as coach Brian Harrigan noted after his team's 39-26 loss at Sleep Train Arena, simulation isn't the real thing.
Lynwood used superior athleticism and height to seize control in the second quarter, turning a slim deficit into a double-digit cushion that prevented St. Francis from winning its first state title.
"You can try to simulate it in practice, but you're not going to do it as well as they do," Harrigan said.
St. Francis, making its first appearance in a state championship game, led 10-7 after Jennifer Lucian scored early in the second quarter.
But the Lancers would not score again until the third quarter and, by then, Lynwood (29-5) had built a double-digit advantage.
Despite their struggles, the Lancers were within nine points of the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
St. Francis finished with 23 turnovers to Lynwood's nine. The Lancers also finished with the fewest points in a Division II girls state final, unable to reach the 32 points Shasta-Redding scored in a 19-point loss to Brea Olinda in 1998.
On the flip side, Lynwood scored the fewest points for a Division II winner.
"We worked really hard to get here," said St. Francis guard Shelbi Aimonetti, who finished with seven points. "But we didn't execute offensively, and we didn't keep them off the boards. Like Coach said, we had a lot of mental breakdowns."
Lauren Johnson led St. Francis with 10 points and nine rebounds. Lucian had seven points and 14 rebounds.
Lucian called the experience of reaching a state final amazing. "I enjoyed every minute of it, NorCals, being here," she said.
Although his team did not leave with the winner's trophy, Harrigan was proud of its achievement.
Before Harrigan's hiring two years ago, St. Francis had won only one-third of its girls basketball games in the previous six seasons. St. Francis finished this season 24-9.
"It's been an incredible journey," said Harrigan, who won four state championships and a mythical national title in 2008 while coaching at Sacred Heart Cathedral. "I've coached this game for 30 years. I couldn't be more prouder or should be prouder of a group of young ladies than I am of the young ladies up here today.
"We might not have played the most artistic game today, but I think you saw our spirit. There was no quit."
Lynwood coach Ellis Barfield praised St. Francis' effort.
"They did an outstanding job," he said. "I know they didn't really have a lot of height, but they had a lot of heart, so we had to really elevate our game defensively."