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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
LAKEWOOD-The sequence of events that took place over the final 9.6 seconds of the Cerritos High girls basketball game with Mayfair High last Friday night will forever be etched in the heads of the players. First, the scoreboard went out following a Cerritos timeout, then a controversial travelling call prevented the Lady Dons from potentially clinching a share of the Suburban league title.
Instead, the host Monsoons barely escaped with a 51-50 victory, thus clinching the league crown with one more game to go. Cerritos dropped to 14-10 overall and 8-2 in the league following the contest with both losses coming to Mayfair by a combined six points.
Cerritos was down 51-49 after a basket from Mayfair’s Briauna Thompson with 31.1 seconds left to play. As senior Tatiana Fominyam was inbounding the ball to junior Cailey Vitug after a Cerritos timeout, the scoreboard went completely black. Cerritos still drove down the court but the referees failed to notice the scoreboard and the Lady Dons eventually turned the ball over as they were attempting a tying score. But junior Ifeoma Okoli quickly stole the ball and was fouled. All of a sudden, the lights came back on and three seconds remained. Okoli missed the first free throw but made the second.
Then the Monsoons turned the ball over as they were trying to get the ball in with Fominyam getting possession. However, she was called for a controversial travelling call with 0.6 seconds left as she was going up for the potential game-winner.
“It was kind of crazy,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “You figure that the referees…the first thing they do is as soon as they hand the ball [to the player], they’re supposed to look at the clock. You have one referee looking one way, another referee looking the other and they should have actually seen that. Unfortunately they didn’t.”
The first half was everything one could expect in a game of this magnitude with so much at stake. There were seven lead changes and five ties in the first half with no lead greater than four points, a Cerritos 13-9 lead with 5:54 left before halftime. The score was tied at 19-19 at the break but the Lady Dons were being outrebounded 19-11 and had turned the ball over 11 times while the Monsoons had 14 turnovers.
“We told them at halftime you have to leave everything on the court,” Chinen said. “So, they had to come out with everything they had. Basically they had to feel like they ran a marathon. I think they did.”
The score would change hands six more times within the first 5:12 of the third quarter and when Thompson scored her only field goal of the stanza, she gave Mayfair a 31-29 lead. The Monsoons would then score the next eight points to hold what they thought was a commanding 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
But the defending league champions refused to relinquish that title just yet. Fominyam had a steal and scored off of that to make it a 39-35 contest with 6:20 remaining. Shortly after that, Okoli scored off of an offensive rebound from sophomore Tracy Nakamura to cut the Mayfair lead to two points. But after both teams called consecutive timeouts inside the final minute, Mayfair took the lead for good on the Thompson basket with 13.1 seconds left.
“A couple of calls weren’t made at the end,” Chinen said. “I’m not one to blame the referees. We didn’t get the calls that we wanted. That last one when Tati went up and…I thought she took two steps and got bumped. It should have been an and-one. But [the referee] wasn’t going to call it. Late in the game, some refs won’t to call it. It was just a hard fought game on both sides. What can you ask for?”
Although the Lady Dons scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, the turning point of the game was the third quarter when Cerritos turned the ball over 14 times. It would finish the game with 31 turnovers and was also on the south end of the rebounding department (40-22) with Thompson grabbing 18 boards.
“That was one of the things I talked about earlier in the week; was that we needed to rebound hard,” Chinen said. “If we don’t box-out hard and rebound hard, sometimes the outcome is like that; you lose on the boards. As far as the turnovers goes, I know our girls were saying there were a lot of bumps and what not. But that’s what is going to happen when you get to [the playoffs]. They have to play through it.”
Fominyam led all scorers with 20 points and had nine steals and seven rebounds. Junior Teresa Torres added eight points while Nakamura came off the bench to score seven points, the only bench points Cerritos would get. Although they would have shared it with Mayfair, the Lady Dons were attempting to win the league for the third time since 2008 and fourth since 2000. Cerritos would breeze past Artesia High 57-24 this past Tuesday to improve to 15-10 overall and 9-2 in the circuit. Seniors Flora Arbas (eight points), Narissa Hantragoon (seven points) and Kate Kato (six points) all posted career-high scoring totals against Artesia on senior night.
“Mayfair is a good team; they’re a very scrappy team,” Chinen said. “I think this year it was their year. Last year I think we came off of a high and maybe it was one of those things [where] we thought we were going to come in here and pull one off and tie for league. But unfortunately it didn’t come out that way for our seniors. I hope that our juniors and the younger ones know this feeling.”
Following the game, the Cerritos boys were hoping to sweep the Monsoons and thus stay alive for the league title themselves. But Mayfair went on 15-2 run over the first 4:27 of the fourth quarter, then staved off a late rally to defeat the Dons 76-71. The loss dropped Cerritos to third place and allowed the Monsoons to stay a half game behind La Mirada for first place entering the final week of the regular season.
“There were a few turnovers that we gave up that led to easy baskets,” said Cerritos co-head coach Kevin Enomoto of the fourth quarter. “They kind of made their run there. We kind of held our own, stayed in there and after [senior] Evan [Leonard] fouled out, we didn’t give up.”
Leonard, the team’s leading scorer all season, was limited to 14 points, his third lowest output of the season, and fouled out with 1:53 left in the game. When he fouled out, which coincided with a technical foul against him, Mayfair’s Isaiah Jackson hit four free throws to make the score 64-53.
But Cerritos came back thanks to the stellar play of sophomore Destin Flucas, who scored 12 of his career-high 19 points in the fourth quarter and had a pair of offensive rebounds during that time. The second of his two three-pointers in the stanza made it a 74-71 affair with less than 10 seconds remaining.
The Dons led throughout most of the first half as Leonard and senior Brandon Yoon were the key forces, each scoring 11 points before halftime. Leonard also had all eight of his rebounds in the half. But Cerritos would squander a 10-point lead with 1:09 left in the half and Mayfair took its largest lead of the game to this point (three points) 77 seconds into the third quarter.
There would be 10 lead changes in the third quarter, the last when Yoon drained a trifecta with 7.1 seconds left in the stanza to give Cerritos a 47-45 lead. Yoon would post a game-high and career-high 24 points with four points and four assists. The performances from Flucas and Yoon proved that Cerritos can still be a force even without the services of Leonard, who will be attending the University of California, Irvine in the fall.
“That’s how we’ve been all season, especially when he was out for three weeks,” Enomoto said. “All of our guys are ready to play, even when he’s not in the game.”
The Dons (16-10, 8-3) bounced back to knock off Artesia 67-59 this past Tuesday behind 29 points, seven rebounds and three steals from Leonard and 16 points from senior Jaylen Jones. Both Cerritos teams, who travelled to La Mirada on Feb. 11, will open the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-A playoffs next week.
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