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Gahr ousted in first round by South Hills, barrage of three-pointers

CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS

By Loren Kopff

WEST COVINA-It didn’t take long for the Gahr girls basketball team to realize it was in trouble against South Hills in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III-AA first round game last Thursday night. The sixth-seeded Huskies drained seven three-pointers in the first quarter and went on to rout the Gladiators 76-41.

Denise Wang had four three-pointers and Brittany Wang added another three, plus a three-point play as the co-champions of the Palomares League built a 26-4 lead with 1:44 left in the opening stanza.

“I knew they were a good team but, boy, they were shooting three’s from deep,” said Gahr head coach David Garcia. “I thought that was [former Whitney High star] Rachel Nagel out there. They’re a good squad; they were the better team. But my girls didn’t give up.”

After Gahr scored back to back baskets to end the first quarter, the only time it would do that in the first half, South Hills scored the first nine points of the second quarter. By halftime, the Huskies had a commanding 48-16 lead with 20 points coming off of 23 Gahr turnovers. The Gladiators (12-15 overall), received eight points before halftime from sophomore Alana Soltis and four more from sophomore Breanna Smith. In the locker room, Garcia tried to give his team some motivation.

“I just told them, ‘enjoy the moment because a lot of you are coming back next year’,” Garcia said. “They’re an excellent team. Now I know why they’re 22-6.”

After scoring eight points in each of the first two quarters, Gahr scored 11 in the third quarter thanks to six from junior Angelica Soltis. Her three-pointer almost two minutes into the fourth quarter ended a 7-0 run, the longest streak for Gahr in the game. She finished the game with a team-high 12 points while her sister added 11 points and grabbed five rebounds. The siblings transferred from Cerritos and have been the top two scorers for Gahr this season.

“They came to me a little bit raw but they showed a lot of leadership towards the end of the season,” Garcia said. “My goal this year for them was to get them a taste of the playoffs regardless of who we played or how far we went.”

Smith pitched in with six points and pulled down nine rebounds while sophomore Lauren Magano had seven boards. The game was also the last for Garcia at Gahr as he resigned from the post on Feb. 13, the day after the team lost to San Gabriel Valley League champion Lynwood 53-11. Garcia went 24-29 in his brief stay at Gahr.

“I will move on and I will look forward to another head coaching job,” Garcia said. “But at this time it’s the best opportunity, not only for Gahr, but for myself to go our separate ways and everybody start fresh.”

Division II-A Second Round

#9 Colony 46, #8 Cerritos 44

Once down by 16 points midway through the third quarter, the Lady Dons rallied but came up short in the final seconds against the Titans. Cerritos was unable to get any rhythm going in the first half, shooting 21 percent from the field as it trailed 24-15 at the half. One of the factors haunting the Suburban League champions was the strength of Colony on the glass. The Titans had five offensive rebounds in the first quarter and another seven in the second quarter. In all, Colony had 27 offensive boards and in comparison, Cerritos had 36 total rebounds.

“That’s the thing; we don’t box out,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Marcus Chinen. “I think we fought for every single rebound we could. Sometimes you grab it and other times we couldn’t. It just didn’t fall our way.”

Colony scored the first six points of the second half before the Lady Dons quietly made their attempt of a comeback. Senior Alyssa Movchan scored two straight baskets in a span of 13 seconds, the second coming on a steal.

After the Mt. Baldy League co-champions opened up a 37-21 lead, Cerritos began driving to the basket more, hoping the players would be fouled, and they were. Cerritos was eight of 11 from the free throw line in the final 3:40 of the third quarter, then hit 10 of 12 charity shots in the fourth quarter. The Lady Dons, who were down 44-30 with 6:20 left in the game, crept back to within seven points after a Movchan three-pointer almost a minute and a half later.

Colony scored its final basket with 2:34 remaining and from there the Lady Dons scored the game’s final seven points. A last second attempt from senior Taylor Hirata, who appeared to have been fouled on the play, was nowhere near the iron.

“When you look at it, it looked like it was going to be a runaway score at one point,” Chinen said. “At halftime, our adjustment was to chip away at it, and we did. A couple of our shooters at first knew they should have shot the ball. At one point we told them to attack the basket and they did attack the basket.

Movchan finished with a game-high 16 points while Hirata added nine points and seven rebounds. The Lady Dons finish the season at 19-8.

“Basically, you have to remember [we’ve] been chasing a league title for the last three years and they finally got it,” Chinen told his team after the game. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. They need to be proud and hold their heads up. That’s the number one thing they wanted-a league title first, then after that we get further in the playoffs.”

Division IV-A Second Round

#2 St. Paul 56, Whitney 24

Whitney wrapped up the regular season at 10-12 but finished in a tie for third place in the Academy League, albeit at 6-6. Still, head coach Jeff Day saw his squad upset 15th-seeded and Cross Valley League champion University Prep in the first round, becoming the lone league team to win a playoff game last week. But that’s where the fun ended as the Lady Wildcats were blown out by the Swordsmen last Saturday at home.

“We were just trying to take one game at a time,” Day said. “It was very important because if you don’t win that game, the season’s over. Our goal was obviously to win our league, which I thought we still could have done. Things didn’t work out that way for us. But going into the playoffs, though, it was a new season. We just wanted to do as good as we could do.”

After junior Annika Brandes scored the game’s first basket, St. Paul reeled off 10 straight points. Whitney trailed 23-11 at the half and was true on four of 21 field goals. St. Paul then opened the second half on a 12-0 run to put the game out of reach. The Lady Wildcats, who had advanced to the quarterfinals the past three seasons, managed only one field goal in the third quarter.

Senior Shiraya Thompson came off the bench to lead Whitney with eight points while freshman LiMei Vera added five points. She and sophomore Nicole Lee (four points, five rebounds) are two of five underclassmen who are slated to be the leaders next season. Lee was the team’s leading scorer this season (10.2 points per game).

“Nicole started for me last year, so I’m going to have a varsity point guard who has two years, 50-some games of experience,” Day said. “So that’s just huge right there. She’s our leader. Obviously she was hurting tonight, but the thing for me was we moved LiMei up about 20 games ago and just the experience as a freshman…she realizes it’s different than playing on the [junior varsity] team in the Academy League. But she has a good shooting touch; she has a lot of other stuff to work on, though.”

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