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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

The second round of San Gabriel Valley League action began with some promise for the Gahr High boys team, which trailed first place Lynwood High by two games. That promise seemed possible, considering the Gladiators lost to the Knights by two points back on Jan. 13 after entering the final quarter up by five points.

But Lynwood, the second ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-A poll, went on a 14-0 run from late in the first quarter to midway through the second and the hosts were unable to tie the Knights the rest of the way in a 68-54 loss last Friday night. Gahr went through a 7:06 stretch without a field goal in the first half, then finished the final 6:27 of the game without a field goal. Those two scoring droughts resulted in a combined 18 missed shots.

“We got some looks; we just didn’t finish our lay-ups and we missed a lot of free throws,” said Gahr head coach Ricky Roper. “I thought we did a good job battling back, getting it to 51-50. And then we had a few possessions where we didn’t convert.”

Gahr trailed by as many as 13 points early in the third quarter before cutting that deficit down to six points on a three-pointer from sophomore Kristopher Smith with 1:18 left in the third quarter. That would be the final points of the stanza for either team. Following a Jesse Ramirez basket to begin the fourth quarter, which gave the Knights a 51-43 lead, Gahr went on 7-0 run capped off by a three-pointer from sophomore Gary Williams. But that was the last field goal the hosts would get. To add insult to injury, Gahr went six for 11 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter and 11 for 19 in the game.

Both teams came out blazing in the opening minutes with each hitting a pair of three-pointers inside the first two minutes. The Gladiators (13-9 overall, 3-3 in league) led by as many as seven points when Williams scored off an offensive rebound. But a 15-9 lead with 1:37 remaining in the first quarter after a bucket from senior Justin Smith quickly turned into a 23-15 Lynwood advantage with 4:39 left in the half.

If it wasn’t the scoring droughts that hurt the Gladiators (one of 12 from the field in the second quarter, two of 13 in the fourth quarter), then it was foul trouble. The team’s leading scorer, junior Marvin Bragg, had three fouls in the first 13:16 of the game and picked up his fourth on a blocking foul not even midway through the third stanza. Bragg, who scored 32 points in the first meeting with the Knights, finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists. It was his lowest scoring output in the six league games played thus far.

“That had a big impact on the game, obviously,” Roper said. “I thought it was a pretty controversial call, too. I thought it could have been a charge.”

Kristopher Smith led Gahr with 15 points, eight boards and two assists while Williams came off the bench to add a dozen points and six rebounds. The Gladiators are still in a great position to get a high seed in the Division III-AA playoffs as they entered the game ranked third but dropped to sixth when the newest rankings were released this past Monday. Gahr visited Warren High this past Wednesday and will host Paramount High tonight before wrapping up the regular season at Downey High on Tuesday and home against Dominguez High on Thursday. Gahr and Warren were tied for third place entering its meeting.

“We thought we could win the game,” Roper said. “We have to finish league strong heading into the playoffs.”

Prior to the boys game, the Gahr girls kept two long streaks alive but for the wrong reasons. Despite leading by four points early in the second quarter, something that does not happen against Lynwood a lot in league action, the Knights outscored Gahr 30-14 in the second half and cruised to a 58-35 victory. It was Lynwood’s 49th straight league victory and 35th consecutive win over the Gladiators.

“What actually killed us today were the little turnovers,” said Gahr first-year head coach Rob Godwin. “[Lynwood] stepped up the pressure and we started panicking a little more than I expected. I thought we would do a lot better under the pressure. But it’s all with being a young team.”

Gahr (9-11, 2-4) was down 15-9 as the first quarter was winding down but got some momentum when sophomore Dezirae Smith scored at the buzzer off a pass from freshman Hannah Kumiyama, who led the team with four assists.

The second quarter began with consecutive baskets from sophomore Nori Smith and Kumiyama and with 5:33 remaining in the half, the Gladiators had a 19-15 lead. But the Knights immediately responded with a 9-0 run as Gahr missed its final seven straight shots after Kumiyama’s basket, then was unsuccessful on its first seven attempts in the third quarter. Together, Gahr was held without a field goal for 10:05 and saw a 16-15 lead turn into a 37-21 deficit.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Godwin said. “I think too, at a point, it was a little fatigue, or us pushing. Instead of just playing the game like we normally would play, they put us out of our strategy and made us rush.”

Despite the loss, Gahr had a great game under the glass, grabbing 35 rebounds with Kumiyama getting nine of them and junior Alana Soltis another eight boards. Sophomore Naomi Ellis led the Gladiators with 11 points and also pulled down six rebounds. Ellis has scored in double figures in four straight games and like Kumiyama and Smith, has shown she can be a force in Gahr’s offense for the next few seasons.

“Naomi played great today,” Godwin said. “She’s going to actually be one of the stars for our team. So we just have to keep on the same page and make sure she keeps working.”

In addition to closing out the regular season against the same opponents as the boys, the girls will face Orangewood Academy on the road on Saturday. But as far as Gahr or any league team solving Lynwood’s dynasty, Godwin came to a conclusion on why Lynwood has been unbeatable.

“It’s the coaching; that’s where it comes from,” Godwin said. “I don’t know if this is the best Lynwood team I’ve ever seen. But I definitely believe he gets those girls to believe in his philosophy, and they play hard for him.”