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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL – Whitney girls get revenge, hold off Pioneer to claim share of 605 League title

February 7, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Since the 605 League was formed to begin the 2018-2019 school year, the Whitney High girls basketball program had lost seven of eight games against Pioneer High. That lone victory came on Jan. 17, 2020, the first season that head coach Myron Jacobs took over the helm.

The Wildcats would tie for second place and advance to the CIF-Southern Section quarterfinals. Since then, his teams would finish in second place and last year, the Wildcats were in a three-way tie for first place with Pioneer and Cerritos High. Now, Jacobs and Whitney can call themselves league champions again as the Wildcats clawed their way to a 56-50 win over Pioneer last Thursday night, catching the Titans for first place in the regular season finale. Whitney entered its Feb. 9 Division 3AA first round the playoff game against Walnut High with a 16-12 overall mark, 9-1 in league action.

“It’s a great feeling; it’s senior night,” said Jacobs. “Like I told my seniors before they left, [it’s been] four years that I’ve been with those same four girls. I told them, it’s senior night and if anything, this is the best game you can get at home for revenge. I thought the first time we played Pioneer the referees weren’t really for us. Pioneer still played hard, but I thought the refs decided the outcome of that game instead of letting a team decide the outcome.”

On Jan. 18, Pioneer came away with a 45-37 win, leaving the Titans at 5-0 as the first round came to an end. This time around, the Wildcats weren’t going to be satisfied with finishing in second place. Whitney would start off slow, falling behind 10-2, then 13-4 and finally 17-8 about six minutes into the contest. 

But a basket from freshman Mady Macaraeg and a free throw and basket from junior Kylie Wang made the score 17-13 a minute into the second quarter. After a free throw from Daysia Almendarez, Whitney turned up the heat even more by going on an 8-0 run. The first half ended in a 25-25 tie and when senior Layla Lacorte and Macaraeg began the second half with consecutive three-pointers, the momentum shifted into the host’s favor.

“We just made some adjustments,” said Jacobs. “No excuses, but we did have a senior, Anika [Kasula], who is not used to starting, put on the floor. When you get thrown into the fire like that, it kind of throws off the rhythm of the starting five. But we also wanted to support her as a senior. After I called a timeout [late in the first half] and talked to them and set a fire under [them], I thought we were ready to go.”

Sarah Ramos scored Pioneer’s first points of the second half at the 6:32 mark but the Wildcats continued their pressure, going on an 8-4 run to hold a 39-31advantage with 3:28 remaining in the stanza. 

Whitney would outscore Pioneer by two points in the quarter but still wouldn’t allow the Titans to tie or take the lead. And, after getting two points, five rebounds, two steals and a block in the first half, sophomore Haylie Wang was dominant in the second half, collecting eight points, three rebounds, two steals and another block. She was one of three starters to score and the only starter to reach double figures. 

“She was feeling a little under the weather, but she still battled,” said Jacobs. “She did start off slow, but then she picked it up. I had a couple of conversations on the side, gave her a couple of pep talks and I thought those worked. She started kicking it into gear.”

One of the reasons why Whitney was able to hold its serve in the fourth quarter was the defensive performance put on Aryanna Reyes. She scored 10 of her team’s 17 points in the opening quarter, nothing in the second, seven more in the third and nothing in the fourth. The Titans would score eight points in the final stanza, none coming in succession.

“After the first quarter, we thought that she had a couple of open looks,” said Jacobs. “We knew that she’s not strong going to the rim, and that we knew she was looking for that three ball. The adjustment was to faceguard her; keep someone on her at all times and she wouldn’t score.”

Also having great games were Macaraeg, with 20 points and five rebounds and junior Kylie Wang, who added 16 points, six rebounds and two steals.

“Mady is the future, along with Haylie, of this program,” said Jacobs. “As a freshman, she showed that she has poise. She shows that she has grit. She plays with heart, and I hope that any other [colleges] out there that’s actually coming to a game rather than seeing another player play…that kid is ready to go. Yes, she still has a little bit more to learn, but the kid plays with nothing but heart. She loves the game, she respects the game, she puts the time in at working out and it shows on the court.”

Jacobs is 58-38 during his time at Whitney and is the third coach in the past 26 seasons to have taken the Wildcats to the playoffs in his first four years with the program. Recently, Jeff Day took Whitney to the playoffs in all six seasons he was the head coach of the varsity team, winning two league titles and reaching the quarterfinals three times. From 2001-2008, David Garcia guided the ‘Cats to the postseason each season, tying for the league crown twice and advancing to the quarterfinals once. The program has never been to the semifinals.

“Let me just say this,” explained Jacobs. “I’ve been here for four years. I’ve worked my ass off, I’ve built this program better than what it was before I got it and today shows the fruits and labor that I’m reaping from it, as in hey, Whitney is known for an academic school, but now we’re also known for girls basketball. We’re here to stay.”

Following the game, the Whitney boys went wire to wire in its 52-37 win over Pioneer, building a 10-2 lead and never looking back. The Wildcats, who finished the regular season at 18-8 overall, 5-5 in league, are advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2015 and the 18 wins are the most for the program since 2010-2011 when that squad finished with an 18-7 mark and advanced to the second round. No Whitney boys team has won more than 18 games in over 26 seasons. The boys, ranked seventh in Division 5AA, drew Savanna High for its first round opponent in a game played on Feb. 8.

The Titans were able to make a late first quarter surge to end the stanza down 12-10. But a three-pointer from junior Sakeef Sekender, a two-pointer from sophomore Morgan Marks and a three-point play from junior Joseph Whittaker began the second quarter and the Wildcats were off and running again.

Whitney’s defense was stingy in the middle portion of the game, allowing six points in the second quarter and five points in the third quarter, By the time the fourth quarter had starter, Whitney was in complete control at 42-21.

Sekender and junior Justin Wahyudi each scored a dozen points with the latter pulling down six rebounds. Senior Ethan Wong, who entered the game with 955 points in his high school career, scored eight points and had five rebounds, three steals, two assists and a blocked shot.