FRANKFORT, Ky. – Ballester led Vanguard to a 97-47 victory over Cal State San Marcos (15-18) in the first round of the NAIA Div. 1 Women's Basketball Championship with a game-high 38 points on 7-for-10 shooting from behind the arc.
Ballestero has caught fire for No. 1 Vanguard (27-1) at the perfect time, averaging nearly double (45.5ppg) her already impressive scoring average (22.9 ppg) in The Pride's last two contests.
"I am so proud of the way we came out and had so much energy tonight," Ballestero said. "We were so excited to come out and compete after watching games yesterday and today and it felt great to be out on the court. Tonight was a great team effort and we are going to continue with what we did well tonight and learn from our mistakes to improve for tomorrow's game."
It was a special outing for the Blue and Gold, which broke a pair of Vanguard school records on the night, including most points recorded at the national tournament (previously 91; 2006) and largest margin of victory at the national tournament.
The 50-point spread was also the fourth-largest score difference in the tournament's 34 years and the biggest in the tournament since 1992, when then-top-ranked Simon Frasier (B.C.) defeated its opponent in the opening round by 51 (96-45).
More special than making history however, was the gesture that the team suggested to Ballestero before the contest to honor her uncle, Rick Fry, who passed away earlier in the week due to complications from lung cancer.
"It was the team's idea to write my uncle's initials on our arms prior to the game," Ballestero said. "It was so awesome and it really meant a lot to me. He got cancer in 2012 and beat it but then it came back in June of 2013. He was a fighter."
Fry was often seen at Ballestero's games in The Pit, rooting for his niece. Ballestero described him as being like a father to her.
Fry was likely in the stands on December 17th and 30th when Vanguard defeated San Marcos in back-to-back home and away games, 78-54 and 91-54, respectively. And he was likely watching over his niece as she hit seven 3-pointers in the second half of Thursday's competition to propel The Pride into the second round of the national tourney.
Three of the seven treys came in the first four minutes of the second half.
Vanguard held a 54-19 edge at the break, but quickly extended the margin and held fast until the end, despite head coach Russ Davis clearing his bench with nearly 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Ballestero shot 56.5 percent (13-for-23) from the floor in 33 minutes of action. Her seven 3-pointers are the most in the tournament thus far. Samantha Doucette (SO/Irvine, CA) and Taylor Belmont (SR/Oregon City, OR) followed with 15 and 12 points, respectively. Belmont also added eight assists, the second most by a player in the opening round in 2014.
The Lions shot 50 percent (11-of-22) from deep on the night.
Vanguard out-rebounded San Marcos, 55-43, led by Melissa Norman (JR/Elk Grove, CA)'s 12 boards. Norman also notched eight points for The Pride in the win.
Sherika Miller and Brianna Higgins led Cal State San Marcos with 12 and 10 points, respectively, while Cassie Damyanovich had eight. The trio combined for 30 of the Cougars' 47 points.
Vanguard will meet fifth-seed John Brown University (26-7) of Arkansas on Friday in the final game of the second round at 6:45 p.m. PST in the Frankfort Convention Center.
*Parts of this release taken from naia.org