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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 3A GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS: Cerritos’ run through playoffs stopped by Chen, Flintridge Prep in quarterfinals

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

LA CANADA-The only thing that was stopping a potential 605 League preview between Cerritos High and top-ranked Oxford Academy in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 3A semifinals was Flintridge Prep, specifically Kaitlyn Chen. The sophomore small forward/small guard for the fourth ranked Rebels was nearly a one-person wrecking crew, scoring 29 points and helping her team to a 60-47 victory this past Wednesday night.

The Lady Dons were seeking their first trip to the semifinals since 2005 but ran into a buzz saw with not only Chen, who averages over 20 points a game, but a team that does not have one senior. Cerritos, ranked fifth in the division, ends the season at 24-5 and saw its 17-game winning streak come to an end.

“I think it was difficult because the girls knew who they had to stop,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “I don’t think they got down. I just think they didn’t expect that she was going to do everything-rebound, push the ball up, play defense. She’s a great player and I think she’s going to take them pretty far in the playoffs.”

The Lady Dons held the lead throughout most of the first quarter and had their biggest advantage of the game (9-4) when senior Tracey Nakamura hit the first of her two perimeter shots with 3:26 left in the stanza. But the Rebels got a Chen basket off one of her four steals, plus back to back scores from Sofia Gonzalez to take the lead for the first time.

After junior Hannah Carroll gave Cerritos the lead again, Flintridge Prep opened the second quarter on a 15-3 run before the Lady Dons ended the half with a bit of a burst, scoring the final six points.

While the Suburban League champions were hanging with the Rebels, they found themselves trading basket for basket for the most part. Then with 2:46 remaining in the third quarter, junior Alyxe Tamaki’s three-pointer tied the game at 32-32. However, that lasted 22 seconds because Gonzalez responded with a three-pointer of her own for the beginning of a 13-3 run.

“You can stay in the game but trading one basket and then they score two or three is kind of hard,” Chinen said. “And it’s going to be very hard staying in the game when that happens.”

Nearly halfway through the fourth quarter, the Lady Dons got it down to a two-possession game when sophomore sensation Minh-Thy Vo put in consecutive baskets. But the Rebels quickly doubled their lead in a span of 68 seconds and cruised to the double-digit win.

In addition to Chen’s 29 points, she was 11 of 16 from the field while Gonzalez added 17 points off the bench. Vo led Cerritos with 18 points on seven of 12 shooting from the field while Nakamura added eight points. Sophomore Kamsi Okere grabbed 17 rebounds, all but two coming on the offensive end, and had three steals.

As they move into the new league next season, Cerritos figures to be just as solid as it graduates only four seniors from a team of 15 players with Carroll, Okere, Tamaki, Vo and current junior Lindsay Fujihiro as the main core players.

“We have to look elsewhere, too, on who else can rebound,” Chinen said. “There were a couple of girls who were sitting on the bench that I think can help us. There were a couple of girls down on the lower level that can come up and maybe help us in the future. But right now, Kamsi is the one and Kamsi’s going to have to do pretty much the bulk of the rebounding the next couple of years unless someone comes in and can step up.”

Last Saturday night in the second round, the Lady Dons roughed up visiting Hemet High 43-29, setting season lows in points scored and points allowed. Cerritos went wire to wire, allowing four points in the first half and going on scoring runs of 7-0 three times before halftime.

“That’s what we told the girls, that defense was going to get us through every round,” Chinen said. “We actually challenged them through the regular season that defense was going to get us to a league title, or even a chance of a league title. We ended up doing that.”

Hemet, which entered the contest with a 23-5 mark, finally scored consecutive baskets early in the third quarter and cut the Cerritos lead down to 15 points before the midway point of the third quarter. But the hosts managed to get their lead back up to 19 points by the end of the stanza and never led by less than a dozen points.

“At that point, it did surprise me, and I think it did surprise some of the girls too,” Chinen said of the big lead “But we didn’t want them to relax. At one point, they did relax a little bit. But when it’s all said and done, it was our defense that won this game.”

Nakamura and Okere each scored nine points to pace the Lady Dons while Fujihiro added another six points. Okere also had 10 of Cerritos’ 36 rebounds. The Lady Dons also swarmed Hemet for 18 steals, five coming from Carroll.