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Road weary Gahr holds off defending champions in fourth quarter, advances to finals

gahr basketballCIF-SOUTHERN SECTION GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS

By Loren Kopff

LAGUNA HILLS-Shortly before his Gahr girls basketball team tipped off against Laguna Hills in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III-AAA semifinal game, head coach Al Dorogusker asked how many wins he had at Gahr. The 77-year old coach, who is in his 10th and final season coaching the Lady Gladiators, picked up the biggest of his 159 Gahr victories.

Last Saturday night, the Lady Gladiators nearly blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead but held on to defeat the Hawks 54-51 to advance to the championship game for the first time since 1997. That season, Gahr lost to Laguna Hills 54-40 in the II-AA finals.

“I get credit for all the wins,” Dorogusker joked. “Just understand that. [Assistant head coaches] David [Garcia] and Art [Jackson] did a great, great, great job in the game.”

Garcia, who will succeed Dorogusker beginning next season, handled the offensive side of the game and watched Gahr, playing on the road for the third straight time, build a 49-36 lead 34 seconds into the fourth quarter. But the defending III-AA champions battled back with a flurry of offensive rebounds and free throw shooting down the stretch to make it a one-possession contest with 42.8 seconds left to play.

After Laguna Hills called a timeout with 19.7 seconds remaining, Christina King got the ball to Cheyenne Berbey, who attempted a three-pointer which was missed. Maddy Ziering-Smith grabbed the rebound but her three-pointer at the buzzer was also unsuccessful and Gahr began the long-awaited celebration.

Senior guard Jewelyn Sawyer led everyone with 22 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three steals. However, the Long Beach State University-bound star scored only two points in the fourth quarter and picked up her fourth foul with 5:35 left in the game. When she picked up her fourth foul, Gahr was up 49-40. Junior guard Ra’vyn Bowser scored the remaining five points of the game for the second place representatives out of the San Gabriel Valley League.

“Jewelyn is a great player first of all,” Dorogusker said. “She had [22 points] and controlled the game. She just did a great job. We don’t worry about her fouling out. We want the ball in her hands and she takes care of it.”

“The last minutes felt like the longest minutes of the game,” Sawyer said. “But I knew if I kept playing hard, I would have more good than bad.”

With the exception of a 2-2 tie, Gahr trailed the entire first quarter and didn’t take its first lead until a three-pointer from Sawyer put the division’s top ranked team up 18-17 with 5:31 left in the first half. Gahr built on that lead and held a 27-22 halftime advantage behind Sawyer’s 11 rebounds and 10 points. The Hawks remained in striking distance throughout most of the third quarter but when Sawyer went coast to coast after a rebound and senior guard Jasmine Gates scored off her only steal, it ignited an 8-0 run that increased Gahr’s lead to 43-31 with 1:38 left in the third quarter.

“I knew we weren’t going to go out without a fight,” Sawyer said. “I knew we were going to make it [to the finals]. Past the finals, I want to go to state. I don’t want to lose to anybody. Every one of the eight games that we lost, I felt horrible.”

Gahr shot 44 percent from the field, a far cry from the 22 percent performance from the Hawks, who didn’t give the school’s Brett Favre club much to root about. In fact, Laguna Hills connected on eight more free throws than field goals. The hosts were 21 of 26 from the charity stripe and out-rebounded Gahr 40-30, including 23-10 on the offensive end.

“[Lindsey Johnson] was in the middle of every offensive rebound,” Dorogusker said of one of the Laguna Hills starter “She kept the ball alive a whole number of times. Maybe she didn’t get credit for the rebound but she caused the ball to be whacked around.”

Gahr, which faced Agoura in the championship game, picked up its 22nd win in 30 games, the most victories under Dorogusker. Last season, the Gladiators were knocked out by Rio Mesa 45-43 in the quarterfinals. Since then, everyone in the program was more than determined to get to the finals.

“Rio Mesa stuck in my crawl all year without any question in mind,” Dorogusker said. “That was a game where we were down 18 points in the first half and with a minute and half to go, we had a one-point lead. I take a lot of blame for that [loss].”

“We wanted to look at it as it’s a whole new season,” Sawyer said. “We don’t care where they were at last year. We want to start fresh this year and make a name for ourselves.”

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