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CIF-SS DIV. 5AA GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS : McKee, Young power Artesia into program’s first divisional title game in 17 years

By Loren Kopff • @ LorenKopff on Twitter

SAN BERNARDINO-Artesia High girls basketball head coach Shonyta Pouncey has been around a long time to remember how he got started in his high school coaching career at the school and where is today. And now, he has a chance to become a CIF-Southern Sectional divisional champion.

Backed by dominating performances from sophomore Sydney McKee and freshman Samerika Young, the Lady Pioneers battled a stubborn San Bernardino High team on the road and pulled away in the second half, earning a 72-55 victory last Saturday night in a Division 5AA semifinal game. Artesia, the third ranked team in the division will face top-ranked San Jacinto Valley Academy Saturday morning in the divisional finals at Godinez High.

It’s the first trip to the finals for Artesia since 2003 when then-head coach Scott Roczey won his second straight Division III-AA championship and third in a row for the program. Pouncey, who said he never doubted for a minute that he would be in this spot, uttered the question, ‘it’s a great year to be a Lady Pioneer, isn’t it’? following the win against the Cardinals. Pouncey then reflected on the coaching staffs of the Artesia boys’ teams he was part of in the early 2000s.

“I cannot be compared to a man named Scott Roczey,” Pouncey said. “I [was] just a mere assistant that was on a great staff with coach [Scott] Pera, coach [Loren] Grover, coach Kendall [Morimoto], coach [Michael] Green, coach [Chris] Holmes, coach [Kennith] Warrior. I am just a lucky man to be…and coming from those guys, I have learned so much. It helped me.”

“It’s exciting, especially because it’s my freshman year,” Young said. “I’m pretty confident we can take it all.”

The Lady Pioneers improved to 25-7, the most victories the program has seen since the 2001-2002 squad went 26-6. Throughout the game, Artesia knew it was going to be in battle with the height of San Bernardino’s Elfredia Bull, who stands at 5’ 10” and Jaynae Woodson, who is 5’ 8”. But the Lady Pioneers stuck to their game plan and kept attacking, scoring 10 straight points in the first quarter to go up 14-6. By the end of the stanza, Artesia was up 20-12 and never looked back.

In the first half, the at-large representatives from the 605 League who tied with Oxford Academy for fourth place had to deal with Jaylyn Edwards and her 13 points, most coming from the free throw line as the Cardinals were doing their best to get Artesia into foul trouble. But the Lady Pioneers countered with McKee (14 points, three rebounds, two assists in the first half) and Young (10 rebounds in the first half)

“The big girl; she rebounded well,” Pouncey said of Bull. “She gets every rebound. She blocks every shot; she blocked a lot of our shots. [Edmonds] is an athletic kid, a shooter and gets to the basket. They have a good, solid team and they have a great coach, and this is a great program. He’s done the same thing I’ve done with our kids.”

Artesia took its first double-digit lead early in the second quarter on a free throw from sophomore Esja Shriver and would lead anywhere from four points to 10 the rest of the half. The lead would grow to as much as 13 points in the final seconds of the third quarter and got as high as 20 points with 3:35 left in the game.

While San Bernardino was having more success at the free throw line, where it went 21 of 33 for the game, Young was a huge part of Artesia’s second half success, scoring 20 of her career-high 25 points in the final 16 minutes while grabbing seven more rebounds. 

“To be honest, the crowd kind of got me pumped because I was feeding off of them,” Young said. “And my teammates, they were pumping me up.”

“Those free throws kept them in the game the whole time,” Pouncey said. “I think we could have put the game away if we weren’t in foul trouble, and we stopped letting them be on the foul line. But man, they have excellent free throw shooters and they stayed in the game with that.

“That kid is a special player,” Pouncey later said of Young. “She is a staple in this program and is going to be a long time coming. I’m blessed, man. That’s all I can say.”

Throughout the second half, the Cardinals tried to chip away at Artesia’s lead, getting it under 10 points three times in the third quarter. Only twice in the half did the Cardinals score consecutive points, the second time coming as part of a 5-0 run late in the fourth quarter.

“We weren’t protecting the basketball,” Pouncey said. “We were doing some things that we shouldn’t have been doing. We’re very young and that’s just part of what we’ve had to do over the season. We’ve managed to weather the storm and we’ve been blessed enough to just get through some things.”

Young’s 25 points comes off the heels of a 20-point performance against Nuview Bridge High to begin the playoffs and a 19-point performance in the quarterfinals against the Academy of Careers and Exploration. She has scored at least 10 points 23 times this season, including 17 straight games and has reached at least 20 points five times.

“Coach [Pouncey] has meant a lot; he’s taught me a lot,” Young said. “He’s opened up my mind a lot about basketball.”

“I think it’s just hard work and she never gives up no matter if she has fouls that weren’t always the best calls,” McKee said. “But she never gives up and she’s always going to the ball and being the best she can every night.”

McKee, who added 22 points, 10 rebounds and five steals remembers being in Young’s position as a freshmen last season as she had to take on that leadership role last season. Now, the Lady Pioneers have a formidable one-two punch and along with junior Mariah Jarnet, who drained a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter, and a host of freshmen and sophomores. 

“I was really the only one who could really dribble as well as I did,” McKee remembers. “It was a lot of pressure, but it helped me for this year, and I know that I have teammates I can trust.”

“That’s my kid,” Pouncey said of Jarnet. “We’ve been talking to the middle schools about how we’re going to do this together and that kid is my heart. She and me have been talking about this plan since she was in the eighth grade. I’m happy to get her there, and Seira Roberts.” 

Last season, Artesia ended a streak of six straight seasons and nine out of the last 10 in which it won less than 10 games by going 12-16. However, the Lady Pioneers went winless in 10 league games and failed at getting into the playoffs. According to McKee, the team was determined not make the same mistakes and began the season with 13 straight victories, already one shy of being eligible for an at-large berth. Of its 25 wins thus far, Artesia has won 20 of them by more than 10 points.

“We work on a lot of fundamentals during practice [and] all spring season and fall,” McKee said. “So, I think everybody knowing the fundamentals helps move the ball quicker and faster and get to the basket.

“It’s the best feeling,” McKee continued. “It feels great because it’s a collective team effort and I know that we’re just trying to win [a championship].”

“She has really good looks; she can pass to a lot of people,” Young said of McKee. “We make a good duo, though. We understand each other because we read each other well.”

San Jacinto Valley Academy is 17-1 and has won 16 straight games. The Wolves are averaging 33.2 points in their victories and their lone loss came by four points. Artesia and San Jacinto Valley Academy share a common opponent in Nuview Bridge. While the Lady Pioneers won their meeting by 23 points to begin the playoffs, San Jacinto Valley Academy defeated Nuview Bridge in South Valley League play by 18 and 28 points respectively.