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MID-CITIES LEAGUE GIRLS BASKETBALL-Gahr’s defense puts the clamps on Norwalk to stay alone in second place

PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

Gahr High senior Kameryn Mitchell drives between senior Julieta Castellanos (right) and junior Keilani Ganancial of Norwalk High in last Friday’s Mid-Cities League basketball game. Mitchell scored eight points and had six rebounds as Gahr remained a game out of first place with a 54-34 victory

January 25, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The last five seasons have been difficult for the Gahr High girls basketball program, enduring a losing record each time and combining for 18 wins in the last four seasons. But one of the feel good stories this season has been the Gladiators, who have won 12 of their last 13 games.

The latest victim was Norwalk High, which struggled in the second quarter, allowing Gahr to run away with a 54-34 win last Friday night. The Gladiators improved to 17-6 overall and 5-1 in the Mid-Cities League. 

“We like to put the pressure on,” said Gahr first-year head coach Al Howard. “I told you [at the beginning of the season] we wanted to play faster; a more up tempo game would benefit us. But it wasn’t just offensively. Defensively, an up tempo game benefits us. We knew that tonight we could speed them up.”

Gahr hasn’t been a flashy offensive team this season, having reached the 60-point mark four times. It has been winning because of its defense, allowing less than 45 points in its last five games. And the Gladiators were on their way to keeping that streak alive in the second quarter, outscoring the Lancers 17-3 in the stanza and without a point the final 6:24 of the half.

“I think our mind was getting away from us, for sure,” said Norwalk head coach Ashley Baclaan. “Reckless play and lost control got in our heads a lot.”

“We’re forcing them to throw it away,” said Howard. “When we speed teams up, we kind of bait them into believing that oh, this is fun. We like to call it controlled chaos. But if you watch, everybody has a play on defense and on offense. But we’re playing fast, and in most girls basketball, you want to play that way.”

Norwalk (13-10, 3-3) took its only lead of the game with 99 seconds remaining in the first quarter when junior Keilani Ganancial completed a three-point play. But Gahr senior Amanda Ulloa broke a 7-7 tie with a second left in the quarter. Then with 6:13 left in the half, sophomore Simar Sogi began a 14-0 run with a three-pointer and Gahr would be off and running.

PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

Gahr High senior Lauren Teramoto (#23) goes one-on-one with Norwalk High senior Amanda Rangel in last Friday’s Mid-Cities League contest. Gahr came away with a 54-34 win as Teramoto grabbed seven points, scored five points and had four steals while Rangel would pull down nine rebounds.

“They came out to play and I thought we were ready,” said Baclaan. “But then with some early foul trouble and with the turnovers back to back pretty much, the girls started to lose control of themselves rushing their shots. They weren’t even setting anything up. It was just chaos.”

Gahr’s second half lead would not dip below 14 points as it was getting contributions from nine players, while the Lancers had six players score at least two points and of those, only one bench player scored just two points.

“That’s what it takes in girls basketball, different than the boys, and I’m realizing this,” said Howard. “The deeper you are, the better you are. And to play this style of basketball of pressing and running and jumping, you need to be pretty deep. We actually play nine to 10 girls a night. Jody Colbert can probably start for any one of the teams in our league. She’s accepted her role coming off the bench, especially as a sophomore.”

“They have a solid squad,” said Baclaan. “Those girls work well, and they hustle hard. That’s a good set of players. We’re solid as long as we play together. But I think we went in the opposite direction.”

It also didn’t help that Ganancial, who entered the game as Norwalk’s leading scoring with an 18.6 average, picked up two fouls in the first quarter and one more before the midway mark of the second quarter. While she didn’t spend a lot of time on the bench, it changed the way the Lancers played the rest of the way. 

“It definitely changes the gameplan in a sense, but at the same time, I trust that any of the girls will be ready to step up at some point,” said Baclaan. “It’s just a matter of if they do it or not.”

Ganancial, who was limited to half a dozen points when the teams met at Gahr on Jan. 4 to begin league play, led everyone with 17 points while grabbing six rebounds, five coming in the first quarter. Senior Julieta Castellanos added seven points, 11 rebounds and three steals while senior Rizzelle Rangel pulled down nine rebounds. Norwalk would have the rebounding advantage, 40-37, but turned the ball over 24 times and shot 24 percent from the field.

Gahr was paced by Colbert, who had 11 points and nine rebounds off the bench while sophomore Christine Ho added nine points and four rebounds. Seniors Kayla Kodua and Kameryn Mitchell, and Sogi all had eight points. Mitchell also pitched in with six rebounds and three steals. Not to be outdone was senior Lauren Teramoto, who had seven rebounds and four steals.

The 16 wins are the most for the program since the 2012-2013 season when that team posted a mark of 22-10. Gahr is also on its way to its first playoff trip since 2017 when that team finished with an 11-13 record.

“I said I wanted to change the culture,” said Howard. “I went deep into my favorite…and got one of old mentors out, and he’s having a great time. In order for us to play this style, that I have learned over the past years under him, being able to do it now is just such a joy.”

Gahr would host league-leading Dominguez High this past Wednesday and will wrap up the regular season welcoming La Mirada High, which is tied for third place with Norwalk, on Friday, and last place Firebaugh High on Tuesday before going to Bellflower High on Thursday. 

“Huge; the biggest team in the league,” said Howard of the next opponent. “We went into Dominguez, and it was a hostile environment. I think our girls rose to the occasion, but they were kind of shellshocked when we got there. By the time we snapped out of it, we had a three-point loss. The second time around, we’re much more locked in, I would say, and we’re playing at home. We haven’t lost any home games this year.”

For the Lancers, they hosted La Mirada this past Wednesday and will go to Firebaugh on Friday before hosting Bellflower on Tuesday and visiting Dominguez on Thursday.

“I don’t mind, I don’t care,” said Baclaan of the outcome of the Gahr game. “It’s just whoever we have to play, we have to play. That’s what it is. But I like it. I think our Dominguez game was great competition, great intensity. That’s what I wanted to feel for tonight. But I think we just let a lot of things get in the way and we got careless of it.”