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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW-Cerritos girls hoopsters advance to semifinals following back and forth battle with Oak Hills

February 15, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

HESPERIA-In a game that saw eight lead changes and six ties, most coming in the second half, it was only fitting that the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA quarterfinal contest between the Cerritos High girls and Oak Hills High would go into overtime. Both teams would blow seven-point leads but in overtime, a pair of free throws from senior Mia Rivera with 81 seconds remaining stood up and the Dons, ranked 15th in the division, escaped with a 51-48 victory this past Wednesday.

Cerritos improved to 22-9 overall and will host 11th-ranked Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High on Saturday. The Cardinals stunned third-ranked Anaheim High 61-47 this past Wednesday in another quarterfinal tilt. This is the second time in three seasons that Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen has guided the Dons to the semifinals.

“I don’t know; it’s a dream I guess,” said Chinen. “That’s tough to say. Pinch me if not awake, but that’s what we play for. Hopefully, we can do our job and duplicate what we did two years ago.”

After holding the lead for most of the opening quarter, the Dons let the game slip away nearly midway through the second quarter as the seventh-ranked Bulldogs went on a 12-2 run to take a 25-18 lead with 2:28 remaining in the half. Cerritos would get a basket from Rivera, a three-pointer from senior Mailee Dizon and a pair of free throws from Rivera down the stretch, even though Oak Hills led 29-25 at the break.

But Chinen’s halftime speech sparked the team, which began the second half on an 8-0 run. The Bulldogs wouldn’t score until the 3:22 mark of the stanza and wouldn’t hit a field goal until Kivonni Williams sank a three-pointer with 1:19 left in the quarter, making it 37-33 Cerritos.

“We were just flat; they weren’t playing their game,” said Chinen of the half. “Their intensity…they’re a great team and their defense came out and they came right at us, and they gave us punches in the mouth. That was the difference in the first half. In the second half, we tried not to allow that to happen, but they still came back super strong. That’s a very, very good team.”

One of the third quarter sparks was Rivera, who nailed all four of her free throw attempts, had three assists, three rebounds and two steals. While she didn’t attempt a shot from the field in the second half, or overtime, Rivera finished the game with 16 points, the most for her since scoring 19 points against Gig Harbor (WA) on Dec. 27. The 16 points is also the fourth highest output this season for her.

“She didn’t want to go down [with a loss],” said Chinen. “We had an off game from [senior Oneyka Nwanze] and she just did not want to give up. She was the one who was the difference maker in this game. Also, [senior] Faith Lacorte came out and played some tough defense and that’s all we ask from her.”

The Dons, who were held to their lowest output since a 49-34 win at Laguna Beach High on Jan. 27, led by four points heading into the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs, who lost to Yucca Valley High two seasons ago, whom Cerritos then defeated, scored eight of the first 10 points of the fourth quarter to take a 43-41 lead with 4:28 left in regulation. That was countered by a 5-0 run by the 605 League champions, only to see Samantha Santiago send the game into overtime with a three-pointer from the right corner with 6.4 seconds left.

She would score the first points of overtime, but Oak Hills then missed its next five shots from the field. Cerritos survived an intense, deafening crowd which still didn’t fill up the entire gymnasium. Oak Hills, which opened in 2009, was seeking its second trip to the semifinals, having accomplished that feat in 2016.

“It played a lot,” said Chinen of the crowd. “The reason why is we’re not used to that stuff. To have that happen and that crowd…that’s what championships are all about. So, we’ll see what happens in the next round.”

Nwanze led everyone with 21 points but had 11 rebounds while four other players combined for the other 14 points. The winner of the Cerritos-CSHM game will face the winner of the Oak Park High-Torrance High contest. Oak Park is the top-ranked team in the division while Torrance is unranked.

BASEBALL (scheduled games subject to change due to inclement weather)

Artesia High was scheduled to visit Santiago High last Saturday for a doubleheader to kick off the 2024 season but lost to Anaheim High 7-0 this past Tuesday. The Pioneers will host St. Anthony High today and Bolsa Grande High on Tuesday.

Cerritos blanked Valley Christian High 7-0 last Saturday and outdueled Marina High 12-7 this past Tuesday. The Dons entertained Hemet High on Feb. 15 in the first game of the Newport Elks Tournament and will have games in the tournament on Tuesday and Thursday.

Gahr High split its first two games of the PBR Invitational, defeating Cypress High 6-2 last Saturday before falling to JSerra High 11-9 this past Tuesday. The Gladiators faced Huntington Beach High on Feb. 15 and will face their fourth tournament opponent on Tuesday.

John Glenn High lost its season opener to Bell Gardens High 12-5 this past Tuesday and went to Cabrillo High on Feb. 15 and will host Whittier High on Tuesday.

La Mirada High fell to Santa Margarita High 2-1 and South Hills High 6-4 in the PBR Invitational and faced El Dorado High on Feb. 15 in the tournament with a final game coming on Tuesday.

Norwalk High dropped a 5-1 decision to St. Paul High last Saturday and was edged by Legacy Prep 2-1 this past Tuesday. The Lancers will visit Sierra Vista High on Saturday, Bellflower High on Tuesday and Paramount High on Wednesday.

V.C. defeated Sage Hill High 7-5 this past Tuesday and hosted Citrus Valley High on Feb. 15. The Defenders will also be home to Bishop Montgomery High on Saturday before travelling to Los Amigos High on Wednesday.

Whitney High was scheduled to visit Jordan High last Saturday in what was to be the program’s first game since Mar. 9, 2020. However, the Wildcats will go to Cabrillo on Wednesday.

SOFTBALL (scheduled games subject to change due to inclement weather)

Artesia edged Bellflower 7-6 this past Tuesday in its season opener and visited Paramount on Feb. 15. The Pioneers will travel to Legacy Prep on Tuesday before facing V.C. on Thursday in the first game of the St. Joseph/Mayfair Tournament.

Cerritos rallied to nip V.C. 3-2 this past Tuesday in the season opener for both teams. The Defenders scored twice in the top of the first inning on two-out singles from junior shortstop Britton Brown and sophomore catcher Brianna Ramirez. But the Dons sliced their deficit in half in the bottom of the first as senior first baseman Natalie Gardea reached on an error and scored on a base hit from junior shortstop Michelle Meza.

Two innings later, Gardea reached on a fielder’s choice and tied the game on a bases loaded, infield knock from senior center fielder Presley Hendrix. The game-winner was scored in the sixth when Meza led off with a triple to right field and stole home two batters later. Brown, Ramirez and freshman left fielder Rachel Zhang all had a pair of hits as the Defenders went to Rio Hondo Prep on Feb. 15 and will face Garden Grove High and Santa Ana High on Saturday in the Savanna Showcase.

Meza and senior pitcher Kylee Manibusan each had two hits as the Dons went to Newport Harbor High on Feb. 15 before hosting Norwalk on Tuesday and venturing to Mark Keppel High on Thursday.

Gahr is off to a 2-0 start following a 4-1 win against Chino Hills High and a 6-2 victory over Vista Murrieta High last Saturday in the 1st Pitch Challenge Classic. The Gladiators will face Huntington Beach and Aliso Niguel High on Saturday to conclude the tournament before going to California High on Wednesday and Millikan High on Thursday.

Glenn got past Baldwin Park High 10-9 last Saturday for its only game until Feb. 23 while La Mirada was also in the 1st Pitch Challenge where it defeated JSerra 7-1 but lost to Huntington Beach 4-1. The Matadores will square off against Los Alamitos High and Millikan Hill on Saturday, then play Yucaipa High and Upland High on Thursday in the Norco Showcase.

Norwalk lost to Downey High 9-6 this past Tuesday and will host Whittier on Friday and El Rancho High on Thursday while Whitney’s season was to begin this past Tuesday at Western High. The Wildcats will travel to Bolsa Grande on Friday and Orange High on Tuesday.