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ARTESIA LADY PIONEERS WINTER CLASSIC TOURNAMENT: Exhausted Artesia squad falls in championship game of own tournament

The Artesia High girls basketball team poses after finishing second in the Red Division of the Lady Pioneers Winter Classic Tournament. Artesia lost to Bolsa Grande High 40-37 last Friday night.


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

The Artesia High girls basketball team is off to its best start in over 10 years but the price for accumulating double digit victories before league play begins is starting to catch up to the Lady Pioneers. Including a blowout victory against Desert Hot Springs High last Saturday, Artesia had played nine games in 13 days.

The Lady Pioneers had won nine straight games before back to back losses to Bolsa Grande High in a span of 48 hours, the second a 40-37 setback last Friday night in the championship game of the Red Division of the Lady Pioneers Winter Classic Tournament. Artesia is now 11-3 and has three more victories than all last season, but head coach Shonyta Pouncey is beginning to see his team worn out with four more games to go before the end of 2018.

“Very tough; it’s hard to beat any team twice,” Pouncey said. “And we kind of knew that we might had to do that this year. It’s never easy to beat the same team twice because everyone kind of knows everything and what’s going on.”

The Lady Pioneers reeled off seven straight points in the first quarter and led 13-11 after the stanza. Junior Seira Roberts was the main force in the opening eight minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing five of the team’s 14 rebounds. Artesia would keep the pressure on in the second quarter, outscoring the Matadores 11-6 and collecting 13 more rebounds.

But the third quarter would be the telling story as the Lady Pioneers, who had missed their first six shots from the field to begin the game, missed their first nine field goals to begin the second half. At the same time, Bolsa Grande took advantage and went on an 8-0 lead in the first 3:50 of the second half. A three-pointer off the glass from Jennifer Troung game the Matadores their first lead at 25-24.

Artesia wouldn’t score for another minute when senior Janet Briseno’s basket allowed the hosts to regain the lead. But the third quarter ended at 28-28 and Bolsa Grande would go on a 10-4 run for the first 4:55 of the fourth quarter.

“Coming out and not getting any points right away all the way until the middle of the third quarter hurt us,” Pouncey said. “Not being able to get after it right away…obviously the starters and the two’s have played a lot of minutes over the last two weeks. They are super darn tired.”

Still, Artesia would have a chance to steal the win away from Bolsa Grande. Down by six points, freshman sensation Sydnee McKee scored the last of her nine points with 2:26 remaining in the game. Then, a three-pointer from sophomore Mariah Jarnet four feet from the top of the key made it 38-37 with 75 seconds left in regulation. However, Mimi Nguyen’s basket with 34.5 ticks left proved to be the dagger in the hearts of the Lady Pioneers.

“I was thinking we had a pretty good chance,” Pouncey said after Jarnet’s big shot. “That kid just hit a Steph Curry-type three. I knew it would jazz up everybody on the court and bench. As far as the play calls, those are our play calls, so I just don’t want to put them out there. But, we wanted to go with our people who we knew could score some points.”

Roberts led Artesia with 11 points and 12 rebounds while freshman Dayzhia Young grabbed 11 boards. In all, Artesia crashed the glass to the tune of 52 rebounds. However, the team turned the ball over 23 times, something that didn’t set too well with Pouncey.

“We have to take care of the ball better,” Pouncey said. “We’re young and they’re hungry. But as far as the game goes and stopping their players and doing whatever, they really followed a game plan. We lost by seven to a Division 3 team and now, we just lost by three to a Division 3 team. Obviously, the room for improvement is there, but it tells me that my kids are way tougher this year.”

Even though she was held to single digits for the second straight game and sixth time this season, McKee has been more than a pleasant surprise and if she continues to stay at Artesia the next three years, she could become one of the best players the program has ever seen. Through the first 13 games, McKee is leading the team with an 11.5 points per game average, 57 assists and 54 steals.

“She’s a godsend,” Pouncey said. “She went to Fedde Middle School, but her parents were going to move to Washington to get jobs or change jobs and she ended up coming [here]. We didn’t know that she was coming, but she has been a godsend.”

The last time Artesia had double digit victories came in the 2011-2012 season when that team finished 12-17. And, the last time any Artesia team had more than 10 non-league victories came during the 2001-2002 season when the Lady Pioneers capped off a 26-6 campaign with a trip to the CIF-Southern Section Division III-AA championship game. The previous season, Artesia went 31-3. By the way, the program has not won a league contest since 2015.

“We had a game plan going in,” Pouncey said. “We know we have struggled in league and we haven’t won a league game in [three] years. I told the kids that the games we play in, we can compete. We want to play teams in our division or around our division or area, and we have to win every game. We didn’t expect to be 10-3 at this point. We wanted to be 12-1 or 11-2. But realistically speaking, they’re in Division 3 for a reason and we’re in Division 5 for a reason. So, it shows that we’re tough kids.”

Artesia hosted Calvary Chapel Downey High on Dec. 20 and will compete in the 19thAnnual West Coast Jamboree where it will face Petaluma-based Casa Grande High at Alhambra High in Martinez on Thursday.