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CIF-SS DIV 4AA GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS – Norwalk, sans Ganancial, no match for Marina in another first round blowout loss

February 13, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

HUNTINGTON BEACH-The odds were not in favor for the Nowalk High girls basketball team and eighth-year head coach Ashley Baclaan heading into its CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA first round game at Marina High. Senior scoring star Keilani Ganancial, who scored at least 10 points in 25 out of 26 games played in, injured her foot in her last regular season game at Firebaugh High on Feb. 1.

The odds didn’t get better because Baclaan herself had won just one playoff game and her teams had been blown out of the playoffs the last two seasons by Anaheim High (85-25) and Hart High (79-24). Last Thursday, it was Marina High’s turn as the defending Division 5AA semi-finalist went on a 14-0 run in the first quarter and was never challenged in a 61-27 win. Norwalk, the third place representative out of the Mid-Cities League, ends the season at 13-16. The only playoff win Baclaan has experienced as a coach, or player, came in 2021, a two-point victory over Shalhevet High. She was a 2005 Norwalk graduate.

“Even last year and this year, they were good, solid teams that we went up against,” said Baclaan. “Whether it’s luck or…I don’t know what it is, but whoever we’re supposed to face, we just have to come out as prepared as possible. I still think the girls played hard; they tried their best, especially this year because we didn’t know if we were going to make it this far.”

Ganancial strained her right foot against Firebaugh and was on crutches, sitting two spots from Baclaan against the Vikings. She had 16 games of scoring at least 20 points and four games of at least 31 points.

Half a minute into the game, junior Janii McGarrah nailed a three-pointer before Marina scored the next seven points. Sophomore Monica Ruiz ended that streak almost two minutes into the game, but the Lancers would hit 50 percent from the field in the stanza and turned the ball over 10 times in the quarter and another 11 times in the second quarter limiting Norwalk in its ability to get more shots off.

“That was pretty frustrating to start off in that way,” said Baclaan. “Especially, you prep how many days in a row [and] you try to mimic and tell them and show them exactly what they’re going to face. They just had to be reminded and readjust themselves and get situated.”

Marina led 42-16 at the break as the Lancers had four more turnovers than shots attempted. McGarrah and Ruiz each had six points in the half while sophomore Kaitlyn Moreno accounted for the other four points.

“You never want it that way,” said Baclaan of missing Ganancial and the offense she brings. “We always try to push the girls to be a factor in that sense offensively and defensively. I think throughout the year, the girls definitely grew in that area. People started to find their rhythm; their comfort zone and producing whatever they can for us.”

It wouldn’t get better in the second half as the Lancers didn’t score until the 3:53 mark of the first quarter but attempted four shots before Moreno ended that drought with a trifecta. Then with 2:24 before the fourth quarter, McGarrah scored Norwalk’s last basket over the next 3:27. During that time, Norwalk missed 13 consecutive shots. It would score eight points in the final stanza, but half of those came off a four of eight performance from the charity stripe and the team went one of 18 from the field.

McGarrah led the Lancers with nine points while Ruiz added eight points and Moreno another seven points along with a team-high of nine rebounds. Norwalk would collect 35 boards from 10 of the 11 players who saw action. But in the end, the Lancers had one more free throw than field goal and 34 turnovers.

“She could be a big piece right now,” said Baclaan of Moreno. “She’s one of the younger ones that will consistently look to shoot and attack. With Keilani being the 20-point average [scorer], we’re trying to find a way to cover that gap in points. We’re just looking forward to all the girls stepping up and growing and seeing what they can bring next year.”