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SUBURBAN LEAGUE BASKETBALL
By Loren Kopff
The much anticipated battle between the Cerritos and Norwalk girls basketball teams lived up to the expectations in the first quarter of their Suburban League opener this past Wednesday evening. But when Norwalk senior center Maiya Griffin-McNair began the second quarter with a pair of free throws, it was the start of a 12-2 run that put the Lady Dons in a state of shock for the remainder of the game.
The end result was a 57-37 Norwalk victory that moved the hosts to 9-6 on the season. Norwalk also began the second half on a 14-0 run, connected on its first 10 shots from the field and led 38-14 with 5:09 left in the third quarter.
“It was a good feeling,” said Norwalk head coach Richard Drake. “It was a tough first quarter and we weren’t sure if our game plan was going to work. But eventually it started clicking in. Cerritos actually surprised us with a 2-2-1 press; they didn’t show that at all when I scouted them [at the Gahr Tournament]. They were more aggressive than I anticipated them to be. It was just a matter of us adjusting to their pressure and our defense that we were bringing in worked. ”
Cerritos (6-7) led 9-6 after the first quarter but went two of 10 from the field in the second quarter and didn’t score until sophomore guard Taylor Hirata scored with 3:37 left in the half. By then, it was 18-12 but the Lady Lancers scored the next six points before senior guard Deshields Fajardo stole a pass and scored at the buzzer to end the half.
With Griffin-McNair sitting on the bench with three fouls, the third coming midway through the second quarter, Drake went to his bench and received a pleasant surprise from senior forward Briana Liera, a transfer from Santa Fe High who recently became eligible. Liera scored all eight of her points in the third quarter.
Norwalk’s lead grew to 48-23 near the end of the third quarter following Liera’s final basket off a pass from Griffin-McNair, who began the sequence with one of her six steals. But it wasn’t just Norwalk’s offense that was doing the job. The defense was holding Fajardo and sophomore guard Alyssa Movchan in check the entire game. Movchan, the team’s leading scorer, had only four points and was one of eight from the field. Fajardo, the senior leader of the team also had four points.
“She’s not a good player,” Drake said of Movchan. “She’s a great player. We just focused real hard on her and we focused on [Fajardo] and we basically focused on the three-point line except for the end of the game when we were relaxing. Other than that, when we were highly focused, we knew that the three-point line was something we had to take away from Cerritos.”
Cerritos was true on only four of 15 shots from beyond the arc with Hirata nailing three of them en route to her team-high 11 points. No other Cerritos player had more than five points. For Norwalk, Griffin-McNair led all players with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Senior forward Elizabeth Hernandez added 14 points and six rebounds off the bench as she returned to the same form she was in when she had 45 points in four games during the Pioneer Tournament at the beginning of the season.
Norwalk has now won five straight league games against Cerritos after dropping 23 of the previous 24 meetings. The two league meetings last season were three-point victories with one coming in double overtime. Cerritos also knocked off Norwalk last season in a Gahr Tournament game.
“Just think about the three games we had last year,” Drake said. “Anytime we play Cerritos, they’re dangerous. They’re going to be dangerous at their place. I told that to my girls. I said, ‘you may have won here but you’re going to have to beat them there and it’s going to be tough’. It’s called respect. I think they have respect for us. I saw how hard their coach wanted to win. I think their team was prepared but I don’t think they were ready for that defense I put on them.”
Cerritos boys rally in fourth quarter to edge Lancers in final minutes
Trailing by as many as seven points midway through the third quarter, the Cerritos boys squad buckled down and scored six straight points late in the game to edge Norwalk 46-43. With the score tied 40-40, sophomore guard Jonathan Rivera scored the game winner with 2:42 remaining. After Norwalk junior forward Rashaad Penny scored with 1:18 left, the Lancers were down by one. But Rivera iced the game with two free throws with five seconds left to play.
“We’ll take it,” said Cerritos head coach Jonathan Watanabe. “We’ll take all of them. Every time we step into this gym, it’s a battle.”
Neither team held a lead greater than three points in the first half and the Lancers went into intermission with an 18-16 lead on senior guard Michael Rocha’s buzzer-beater following a steal and assist from senior center Ralph Wormley.
With 4:05 left in the third quarter, junior guard Alex Vidana’s basket gave Norwalk a 28-21 and the hosts were that close to just their second home win over Cerritos since 1999. In fact, the past seven meetings on Norwalk’s court have been decided by less than 10 points. But the Dons went on a 10-4 run the rest of the quarter and regained the lead on senior guard Bryan Tong’s free throws 13 seconds into the fourth quarter. Rivera and senior guard Elijah Leonard each led Cerritos with nine points while three other players all added five points. Penny was Norwalk’s leader with 14 points while Vidana chipped in with 10 points.
The two Norwalk teams will visit Mayfair today and Artesia on Monday before hosting Bellflower on Wednesday while the two Cerritos teams host La Mirada today and Artesia on Wednesday.
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