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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 4AA GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS: Whitney’s late season slump wiped away with complete performance against Santa Ana


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


SANTA ANA-There was lots of cheering in the locker room after Whitney High’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA first round playoff game at Santa Ana High. Not only did the Lady Wildcats wipe away the demons of last season’s 17-point loss to Don Lugo High in the first round, but they proved they belonged in the playoffs despite losing five of their last eight games of the regular season.

First-year head coach Rachel Nagel called Whitney’s 48-34 win last Thursday a huge confidence boost, especially after her team ended the game on a 19-5 run over the final 8:57.

“I think it was kind of like a relief just from this whole season,” Nagel said. “During league, I felt like we didn’t feel like we were playing to the best of our ability. But at the same time, those three teams that were above us…those are solid teams. So, I think it was just nice for us to come out and feel like we played a complete game.”

“Because of last year, we decided that that wasn’t going to happen again,” said senior Christine Hamakawa. “We were all determined, and we just really came together as a team. I felt like today, our chemistry was just on even though they got close at times. We were just always in the game and that’s what we’ve been working on all season.”

Except for a 2-2 tie, the Lady Wildcats had the lead for the entire first half, leading by as many as 11 points following the second of consecutive baskets from sophomore Julianna Lee. That came with 2:45 left in the half and Whitney would not score again but held a 22-16 lead at the break. The Saints then began the second half on a 7-0 run to take the lead for the first and only time with 5:35 left in the third quarter. Both teams would trade baskets until just under a minute remained in the stanza.

That’s when sophomore Kim Hosada hit one of two free throws to give her team the lead for good at 30-29. Then in the fourth quarter, Whitney’s stifling defense yielded five points and forced seven turnovers.

“I think the major game-changer was they were playing a man-to-man defense at first and I think we were doing a really good job of executing our plays against that,” Nagel said. “They really went into a stagnant zone that kind of dared us to shoot the ball from outside.”

“Definitely, we did lose some momentum in the second half, and that always happens in a game,” Hamakawa said. “We decided to run a play and set myself up for a three and thanks to my teammates, they were able to find me.”

She was talking about the first of her two three-pointers that came with 5:14 left in the third quarter and ended that brief run Santa Ana went on. Hamakawa had a lot to say about the fourth quarter, scoring six of her 11 points and pulling down four of her team-high 10 rebounds. Hamakawa, who also had six steals and three assists in the game, played one of her better games this season and reached double figures for only the sixth time, but first since Dec. 21.

“It was just a matter of willpower,” Hamakawa said. “We knew that we weren’t going to give up or give in and in the end, were all talking and said we were going to finish this game, and that’s exactly what we did.”

“I think a lot of it was just waiting for the opportune moment to hit those big-time shots rather than just gunning it up and seeing if, ’am I going to hit my first three or am I going to miss my first three’,” Nagel said. “I think she just did a great job of making reads against the zone and being ready to take an open shot when it came to her. That opportunity didn’t come until the third quarter and that made a big change.”

Junior Janelle Ho led everyone with 13 points and Hosada had a game-high seven steals. The 34 points yielded was the 15thtime through 28 games Whitney had held an opponent to under 40 points. The team also forced 26 turnovers and had 17 steals.

“I think it always comes from our defense,” Nagel said. “We’re a really high-pressured team. We rely a lot on our scoring by stealing the ball. So, I think we just upped our pressure, changed our defense a bit, got a feel steals, got a couple of open looks and that really changed the flow.”

Two nights later, the Lady Wildcats got past La Serna High as senior Justine Wu led the way with 14 points while Hosada added 13 points. However, Whitney’s season came to an end in the quarterfinals this past Wednesday night. The Lady Wildcats, who led by 13 points early in the second quarter against fourth-ranked Oak Park High, went cold in the second half, connecting on four of 37 shots from the field. What was once a 27-15 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the first half turned into a disappointing 49-40 loss. It was the sixth time since 2008 that Whitney has fallen in the quarterfinals and the program is still searching for its first trip to the semifinals.

Whitney, the fourth place finishers from the 605 League, went scoreless for 9:42 in the second and third quarters combined while watching Oak Park go on an amazing 19-0 run. The Lady Wildcats were able to cut their deficit to four points twice but were a dismal three of 22 from the field in the fourth quarter. Hosada led Whitney (20-10) with 13 points while Ho and Wu each added seven points. Five of 11 players also played their final game in a Whitney uniform.