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Cerritos recovers from sluggish first half, romps Dos Pueblos going away

By Loren Kopff

 Like the rest of her team, Cerritos senior Stacey Suzuki wanted to show that the Lady Dons were not down and out despite losing to Mayfair on the final day of the regular season, which cost the team a share of the Suburban League title. So, Suzuki put together her best performance of the season in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-A playoffs.

Suzuki scored a career-high 14 points and hit three shots from beyond the arc as the host Lady Dons pummeled Dos Pueblos 71-42 last Saturday. Suzuki, who had scored in double figures only five times in the regular season, tied the game at 3-3 halfway through the first quarter and later started a 9-0 run that ended the first half with a pair of free throws. The Lady Dons had missed their first nine shots from the game, but so did Dos Pueblos as the Channel League at-large representatives only led 3-0 midway through the opening stanza.

“We were very disappointed that we lost [to Mayfair],” Suzuki said. “We knew that to make up for it, we had to work really hard just to get past the first round.”

“Stacey struggled against Mayfair and we’ve been talking to her all week,” said Cerritos head coach Arial Adams. “She’s an impact player. When she does well, we do well. She does a lot of little things and scoring is not her main role. But tonight, she just happened to do that for us. She needed a game like tonight in order for us to go on.”

Cerritos, the seventh ranked team in the division, was up 21-17 before Suzuki hit those two free throws with 2:12 left in the half. However, Adams still wasn’t too pleased with what she had seen in the first half. Cerritos shot eight of 32 from the field before halftime and four players had at least two fouls. In the locker room, she told the players that they were not being aggressive offensively and they weren’t making their lay-ups.

“She said we had to watch our fouls because a lot of us were in foul trouble,” Suzuki said. “She said we had to push the ball and play our game. I think because a lot of us are new to [the playoffs], we kind of had jitters. But then once we got used to the game and the flow, it got easier to score.”

So, Cerritos responded by outscoring the Chargers 25-8 in the third quarter to lead by 30 points entering the fourth quarter. Suzuki scored four points in the third quarter. But junior Alyssa Movchan was three of three from the field, sophomore Tatiana Fominyam and freshman Ioefoma Okoli each scored four points while freshman Cailey Vitug was just heating by going five of six from the charity stripe.

“We’re a third quarter team; we have been all season,” Adams said. “I was just banking on that third quarter, honestly. We finally did well.”

Vitug also posted a career-high 13 points by going 11 of 13 from the line. It was the first time she had reached double figures. Fominyam (11 points, five of nine from the field), Movchan (10 points) and Okoli (10 rebounds) paced Cerritos, which forced 34 turnovers and had 17 steals.

“This has been the best that she has played in a very long time,” Adams said of Vitug. “We’ve known that she can do it. It’s just that there’s a lot of pressure on her. Again, it’s her being aggressive. It’s that whole mindset of instead of being passive and settling for 15-footers, go to the basket. And she finally did that. She handled herself very well, especially as a freshman point guard when our other starting point guard was in foul trouble.”

In addition to three outside shots, Suzuki was five of eight from the free throw line.

“That was really lucky because in warm-ups, I wasn’t making anything,” Suzuki laughed. “I thought it would be an off-night.”

Cerritos, which advanced to the second round for the first time since the 2009-2010 season, hosted 10th ranked Jurupa Hills that past Wednesday night and had another solid outing. The Lady Dons outscored the Spartans 22-9 in the fourth quarter to win going away, 75-58 in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.

Cerritos rallied from nine points down at the beginning of the second quarter and limited the second place team from the Mountain Valley League to only one field goal in the final seven minutes of the half. Cerritos led 35-23 at the half and later by 14 points with 3:10 left in the third quarter before Jurupa Hills went on a 23-11 run to trail by two points early in the fourth quarter. But the Lady Dons were eight of 13 from the fine in the final stanza and the Spartans were true on only two field goals in the final quarter.

Okoli had a career-high 16 points and grabbed 6 rebounds while Fominyam came off the bench to add 16 points and 11 rebounds. Hirata, Movchan and Vitug all scored 11 points as Cerritos improved to 21-5, its best record since going 22-8 during the1998-1999 season. Cerritos will visit second ranked El Dorado on Saturday night for its first road game since Jan. 31. A win will put Cerritos in the semifinals for the first time since the 2004-2005 season against either third ranked Patriot or sixth ranked South Torrance as the top eight ranked teams in the division still remain.