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CIF-SS Div. 5AA GIRLS BASKETBALL FINALS-Third quarter the difference as Gahr unable to rally past top-seeded St. Margaret’s

Gahr High senior Lauryen Teramoto and Kaitlin Tam of St. Margaret’s High battle for a rebound in last Saturday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA championship game. St. Margaret’s won the school’s first girls basketball championship, 44-33, as Tam scored a team-high 12 points. Teramoto scored seven points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer


February 27, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

HUNTINGTON BEACH-All season long, Gahr High has been able to rally in the fourth quarter to pull out some victories that would have been losses. This time, playing on the brightest stage of the season, Gahr couldn’t put together another fourth quarter rally.

Down by 13 points with 1:59 left in the third quarter, the third-seeded Gladiators went on a 10-2 run but ran out of gas as they fell to top-seeded St. Margaret’s High 44-33 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA championship game last Saturday night at Edison High. The 33 points were the sixth fewest the team has scored all season, all resulting in six of the seven losses the Gladiators have.

“It’s tough; it’s tough when you don’t come out with a win and you put in the work all year to win,” said Gahr first-year head coach Al Howard. 

Gahr High senior Alyssa Miyake drives around Natalie Roby of St. Margaret’s High in the second half of last Saturday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA championship game. Gahr lost 44-33 but is the top-seeded team in the CIF Southern California Division 5 Regionals, which begins on Feb. 28. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.


Gahr was seeking the program’s second CIF-SS divisional title in school history with the only championship coming in 1992, and early on, it was business as usual for Gahr. It fell behind by seven points with 2:15 left in the first quarter before going on a 9-0 run. The rally began with a consecutive baskets from sophomore Jody Colbert and senior Kameryn Mitchell to end the quarter. After a free throw from senior Lauryen Teramoto 10 seconds into the second quarter, senior Kayla Kodua and Mitchell added baskets and for the third time in the game, the Mid-Cities League co-champions held a two-point lead. The game would go through five straight lead changes to end the half, although there was no scoring in the final 2:34 of the half.

Gahr trailed 18-17 at the break but the focal point was on Mitchell, who was nearly a one-person show. Held to a a combined 12 points in the previous two playoff games, Mitchell matched that in the first 16 minutes against St. Margaret’s, going six of 11 from the field and collecting four rebounds. Mitchell said she felt like she wanted to take control as the rest of the team went a combined two of 18 from the field in the half.

“Of course, I mean it’s the CIF championship [game],” said Mitchell. “Who wouldn’t want to take control? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I was given as a senior. So, I felt like this was it. I just felt like I had to push myself to my fullest capacity.”

“The kid is tough,” said St. Margaret’s head coach Josh Markum. “Today in our pregame shootaround, our coaches were saying, and our girls were saying, too, that [Mitchell] is their X-factor. We know what we’re going to do on [Teramoto] and we know what we’re going to do on [sophomore Christine Ho]. We need to contain [Mitchell] as best as we can, and she sure made that tough in the first half.”

Whatever game plans Howard had for his team went out the window in the second half as the Tartans began with a 10-0 run, highlighted by a three-pointer from Kaitlin Tam, who would later add three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt. St. Margaret’s owned the stanza in the scoring department, 16-6, but of greater importance was the lack of rebounding from Gahr in the second half.

After getting 18 rebounds in the first half, the Gladiators could muster just nine in the second half and for the game, the Tartans owned a huge 45-27 advantage in that department.

“Okay, I didn’t know it was that bad, but we’ve been the smaller team all year, so our girls are really scrappy,” said Howard. “We came in as a small team again, today, and fought as hard as we could. We just couldn’t come up with the rebounds tonight.”

“I think our third key of the game was rebounding,” said Markum. “I’m pretty sure in all of our timeouts in the second half, the majority of what was talked about was rebounding and helping out defensively; trying to rotate a little bit.”

Mitchell had one of her three steals, leading to a basket to end the third quarter scoring with 1:14 left, making it 34-23 and helped sparked Gahr’s final rally of the night. Six seconds into the fourth quarter, Teramoto had a free throw and nearly a minute later, another steal and basket from Mitchell made it 34-26.

Following a basket from Taylor Francois, Teramoto scored with 5:56 left in the game, then hit a three-pointer nearly halfway through the stanza to make it a five-point game. But the Gladiators went one of five the remainder of the game.

“I was thinking we could get back into this and we were trying to pick up some momentum,” said Teramoto. “So, I felt really good thinking we could come down and start doing what we normally do.”

“Tonight was a tough night for us offensively,” said Howard. “We’ve been preaching defense all year; I’m really strong about the defense. Once the ball wasn’t going in, we just tried talking about defense. We still held them to under 50 points; under 45 points. We still had a good defensive effort. But tonight, the ball wasn’t falling for us.”

For the 18th straight game, and 28th time in 32 games this season, Gahr held an opponent to less than 45 points. Tam led St. Margaret’s with 12 points and had nine rebounds while Francois added 11 points while grabbing 10 boards. But those two players weren’t of Howard’s initial concerns. It was Harper Gideons, who finished with two points, which came in the third quarter.

“We were worried about [Harper Gideons],” said Howard. “So, [when we talk about the defensive effort, that was our focus. We knew [Tam] could shoot it and as a matter of fact, they all can shoot it. But [Gideons] on film and on paper, was the best thing in this division. But [Tam] and [Francois] came out under the lights and they played a great game. All respect to them as players.”

Markum admitted his concern was Ho, whose three-pointer with less than half a minute in the semifinals against Marina High sent Gahr to the finals. As it turned out, Ho shot the ball twice and scored just two third quarter free throws. Mitchell led all scorers with 16 points and had half a dozen rebounds while Teramoto added seven points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals.

“I was given the assignment of don’t let [Ho] touch the ball,” said Tam. “So, she didn’t touch the ball. I don’t think she touched the ball until she got free throws.”

Gahr’s path to the finals is one that could pass for a Hollywood movie. Before this season, the program had reached 20 victories five times in the past 25 seasons. This season, the Gladiators entered the CIF Southern California Division 5 Regionals with a 25-7 record. Over the past 26 seasons, the program has now reached the quarterfinals four times and the divisional finals twice. And the program went a combined 18-77 over the past four seasons. With a less than desirable track record for the program, the thought of getting this far wasn’t on the players’ minds.

“It’s something that I didn’t think we would ever get,” said Teramoto. “Like coach said, coming off last season, we had [five] wins and an empty gym. But now, every single game, we have a packed gym. People cheering us on; people last year who wouldn’t even look our way. So, it’s just amazing to be able to have this opportunity and just get something we never thought we would every get.”

“Absolutely not,” said Mitchell. “As a senior coming into this season, I felt that we had a really good chance to make it to the playoffs. To say that I expected to get to this highest point that we would ever reach…I’m extremely grateful to be working with the people we have to get to this point.”

On top of that, since the 1997-1998 season, Gahr has had 12 winning seasons and been to the playoffs 16 times under six coaches. 

“These two ladies [pointing to Mitchell and Teramoto] right here are a testament to that,” said Howard of the season’s success. “[Teramoto] is one of the players that I signed up to coach. Watching her compete like she did on a team with [five] wins…looking at her [former] coach saying, ‘yes coach, no coach’ and going out there giving it her all, even though the score was 70-3 at the time, she was still going as hard as she could. She’s one of the reasons why I wanted to coach the girls basketball team.

“Kameryn Mitchell coming back to the team was the icing on the cake,” he continued. “I told them both, with those two, we can’t lose. In the last [21] games [before tonight], we lost one game. So hey, they played better than the boys.”

While St. Margaret’s, which won the school’s first girls basketball championship, got bumped up to Division 4 for the regionals and had to go on the road, the Gladiators are the top-seeded team in Division 5 and hosted Lindsey High (21-12) this past Tuesday. Lindsey won the CIF-Central Section Division VI championship with a 53-37 win over Madera-based Torres High. Gahr could be set up for a rematch against Marina on Mar. 2.

“It’s like we’ve been doing all year, we respond,” said Howard of his approach for the regionals. “It’s been a long time since we’ve lost. The last time we lost, the team that plays after that had a nightmare. We’ll respond.”