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Cerritos girls can’t match Mayfair’s intensity, finish in second place

By Loren Kopff

Last season, Cerritos girls basketball head coach Arial Adams hoped her team would win the Suburban League. That title went to Norwalk as the Lady Dons finished in third place.
This season, the second-year head coach was even more confident her team would take the top spot and she still felt that way after the Lady Dons lost to Mayfair by two points on Jan. 17. But Cerritos went ice cold in the final 2:20 and lost to the Monsoons 61-56 last Thursday night in the regular season finale. Cerritos saw its seven-game winning streak come to an end as well as its opportunity to win a league crown for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.
“We were supposed to win,” Adams said. “It was all on the line to win. But we didn’t deserve to win based on how way we played today.”
After leading throughout most of the third quarter, Cerritos (19-5 overall, 10-2 in league) never led in the fourth quarter. Mayfair had a 55-48 lead with 4:34 left in the game before Adams called a timeout. The hosts responded when freshman Eofeoma Okoli scored on one of her seven offensive rebounds. Sophomore Tatiana Fominyam added a basket before junior Alyssa Movchan, who was in shooting slump throughout the game, nailed a tying three-pointer. But Cerritos would be held to one free throw the remainder of the game, missing six straight field goals in the process.
“I called that timeout to get us going, and we got going,” Adams said. “We scored immediately. It’s just that we let the game slip away defensively. The same thing that’s been killing us all season is the other team’s offensive rebounds. That’s what I’ve been talking about all season.”
The first quarter was what you would expect with a league title on the line. There were seven lead changes, the last of which was the beginning of a 7-0 run for Cerritos that ended the stanza. However, the Monsoons would go on a 12-0 run before the Lady Dons rallied and tied Mayfair at 27-27 by halftime.
Although the game was tied at the break, Cerritos was still getting dominated on the glass, grabbing 13 rebounds in the first half, four of which came in the first quarter alone. When the game had ended, Mayfair had 38 rebounds to 29 from Cerritos.
“Oh wow,” a stunned Adams said of the first quarter rebounds. “I’m sure any team that plays against us knows that’s our weakness. That is something we’ve been talking about for the last three weeks. I told them this game was going to come down to how bad you want to box out.”
The two combatants continued to trade leads in the third quarter with Cerritos taking a pair of three-point leads on downtown baskets from junior Taylor Hirata, which made the score 36-33 with 5:12 left in the third quarter and one from Movchan with 3:33 left in the stanza, making it a 40-37 affair.
Mayfair was led by Aissha Baldwin’s 21 points and 21 rebounds while Ariel Augustine and Bianca Silva each added 14 points. Hirata led Cerritos with a dozen points while Movchan pitched in with 10 points. Okoli, who led the Lady Dons with 11 rebounds, and senior Tori Mura each had eight points.
Even though Cerritos lost to Mayfair for the 10th straight time, with four of the last five being decided by five or fewer points, the 19 victories picked up this season are the most since going 19-9 during the 2009-2010 season. With a victory against Dos Pueblos on Saturday in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-A playoffs, the Lady Dons will have their first 20-win season for the first time since the 2004-2005 season (20-10).
“We’ve made strides as a program, easily,” Adams said. “Everyone can see that. But on paper, none of that matters. Almost doesn’t count. I have to tell my girls that no matter how good we are, no matter how good our record is, no matter how much improvement we’ve made from one year to the other, we’re still second place or third place. The last time we beat Mayfair was [2009] and I know that. It’s extremely stressful.
“We have to establish a culture of winning and expecting to win,” Adams continued. “That’s something they’ve never had. They definitely didn’t have it last year. This year, I think I started to see that they started to believe that they could win. It’s a cultural thing. Mayfair expects to win because they’ve been winning.”
Following the contest, the Cerritos boys team fell behind league champion Mayfair 11-0 to begin the game and was never a threat in a 72-61 loss. The Dons wrapped up the regular season at 14-12 overall, 7-5 in league and in third place.
Cerritos trailed by as many as 23 points early in the second quarter and 28 points late in the third quarter. Sophomore Evan Leonard led Cerritos with 23 points and nine rebounds while junior Henry Buycks added 10 points.