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CIF-SS DIV 5AA GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS – La Mirada corrals the Bison to lock up historic win in the program, will host quarterfinal game

The La Mirada High girls basketball team after its 45-35 victory at Liberty High last Saturday in a CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA second round playoff game. According to a former Suburban League girls basketball coach, this is the first time La Mirada has won at least one playoff game since the late 1980s. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

WINCHESTER-You had to excuse the La Mirada High girls basketball team as it entered the gymnasium of Liberty High, an hour before last Saturday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA second round game. While the Matadores have had little success in the playoffs, Liberty was built coming out of the pandemic and had a full varsity basketball squad for just two years.

Once La Mirada put its game face on for shootaround practice it was all serious and despite unusually sloppy play from both teams for a playoff contest, the Matadores, ranked third in the division, had enough to outlast the Bison 45-35. They improved to 20-5 as they will host unranked Santa Ana High on Wednesday.

While Liberty has the flashy new gym in which spectators can look down onto the court from the second level, the one thing that concerned L.M. head coach Victoria Luong was its lack of history. The Bison fielded a junior varsity team for the 2021-2022 season, went 9-10 last season and entered the second round contest at 12-10, having defeated Sierra Vista High 38-35 last Thursday.

“Just look at their history; just not having any data,” said Luong. “And then not having any info on their players or background…we watched film, but again, there’s limited info out there. We did the best we could with what we had. But we made it and I’m proud of the girls.”

“It’s exciting to be playing with these people and making records for my school,” said senior Jirah Domingo.

Both teams took a while to get going as the Bison took a quick 4-2 lead 71 seconds in, then missed their next 14 shots from the field. While this was going on, the Matadores couldn’t take advantage the way they wanted to because they turned the ball over 10 times in the first quarter while Liberty had half a dozen turnovers.

A steal from junior Jael Arreguin, who fed the ball to Domingo, gave the second place representative from the Mid-Cities League the lead for good at the 5:28 mark. Those two hooked up again in the same format to make it 12-5 with just under a minute remaining in the stanza. The Matadores would lead by seven on two occasions in the second quarter, only to see the Bison storm back to tie the contest on a Giana Crosby basket with 22.3 seconds left before the break.

La Mirada led 25-23 at the break, but turned the ball over seven more times while Liberty had a dozen by halftime in a sloppy first 16 minutes that saw the hosts take 35 shots from the field while La Mirada went 10 of 33 from the field.

“It was, it was,” said Luong of the sloppy play. “In the first half, it was just sloppy, and we talked to them at halftime. I think the hardest part is their mental game. Getting them to reset…and I think that halftime [talk] kind of helped them to reset them and we came back strong in the third and fourth quarters, which is what we needed.

“I was just reminding the bigs that we need them on defense; that they just need to go in and play strong defense,” she later added. “We told them because they were double-teaming Jirah; that it’s a game of the bigs. It was their time to step up and be a part of the team as opposed to just relying on Jirah and Jael all the time.”

“I think everyone just has their nerves,” said Domingo. “But I think our talk at halftime really turned us around.”

While Domingo was pacing everyone with 10 points in the first half, she was saddled with three fouls, the last coming with 2:58 left before halftime. She picked up her fourth foul late in the third quarter, but the Matadores brought out their defense in the stanza. Liberty had 17 turnovers in the third quarter and missed all 15 shots it took. La Mirada wasn’t much better, shooting two of 20 from the field in the quarter, but was able to increase its lead to 33-24 with eight minutes left to play, but Domingo never fouled out.

“She knows the game well enough that she knows her limit,” said Luong of the team’s lone senior. “She knows the game, so she can control it, and we just tell her it’s not worth the foul. We told her to look at some of their shots, and we put the pressure on them. That was sufficient that we didn’t need to force a foul on them. She was able to use her head and really play smart on that.”

The Matadores scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to hold their largest lead of the contest with five minutes remaining. That was followed by the Bison scoring the next five points, but their deficit never got under double digits. Domingo led everyone with 16 points and attempted 31 shots but was perfect in six free throw attempts. Freshman Jordin Shaw added nine points and five rebounds while Arreguin pitched in with six points and just as many boards.

However, Luong and her team received a big game from junior Emily Gonzalez, who scored six points and grabbed 20 rebounds, seven coming from the offensive end.

“She’s actually stepped it up recently,” said Luong. “A couple of games into league this year is when she really turned around and just started to have focus. She does have an incentive from her parents. They do give her two dollars per rebound, so that was a strong incentive for her.”

For La Mirada to even get this far has been a work in progress. Since Luong took over, the Matadores have gone from zero wins to two, 10 and now 20 and she had never been to the playoffs until this season. Dating back to 1994, the Matadores had lost at least 12 straight playoff games.

“Honestly, we’ve had a lot of injuries and I know that kind of hurt us because I know everyone is a big part of the team,” said Domingo. “But other than that, I think we’ve grown a lot in our chemistry and our skill, and we just all have fun on the court.”