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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
The four words that could be uttered by head coach Jeff Day and his Whitney High girls basketball players following a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 4A quarterfinal loss was “we were right there”. The unranked Lady Wildcats had led second ranked Knight High for virtually the entire second quarter and again midway through the fourth quarter.
But Whitney’s hot shooting in the first half went cold in the second half and the Lady Wildcats ran out of gas in a 44-40 loss this past Wednesday night. Whitney had entered the game with a pair of impressive road wins, surrendering a combined 60 points. But, as Day said after the game, Knight’s Ryan Stuart-Flores simply hit “two more three’s”.
“That’s how it has been for us in any game we’ve been in, or won,” Day said. “It’s because of our defense. We figured that team was going to be huge. We thought if we could keep the ball out of the low post, limit their second and third tries, that we would have a chance.
“I expected them to press; they didn’t even try,” he continued. “Looking back, I thought we controlled the tempo for the most part. A team like that with athletes, they’re going to get seven, eight, nine deflections, tips, fast breaks. I knew that; my team knew that.”
The opening moments of the game seemed like the game would be a racetrack with Stuart-Flores connecting on consecutive three-pointers before sophomore Christine Hamakawa did the same, all within the first three minutes. Another long distance shot by Hamakawa put Whitney in front for the first time with 2:55 left in the opening quarter and her two free throws with three seconds left in the stanza would be the start of a 17-8 run.
“Christine is a rhythm shooter,” Day said. “She’s not a jump shooter. She catches and shoots. I was worried that that team, if they did play a zone, in which they did, was going to be too long for us and it was going to push us out 25 or 30 feet for our shots. So we’ve been working on a lot of screening in the zone.”
If Hamakawa dominated the first quarter for Whitney, then freshman Janelle Ho was nearly a one-person show in the second quarter, scoring 10 points on four of five shooting from the field. Hamakawa added a three-pointer along with three assists and just like that, the at-large representatives from the Academy League were up 28-21 at the half. Ho would finish the game with a career-high 14 points.
The only basket from senior Nicole Lee almost two minutes into the third quarter still gave Whitney a six-point advantage. But from there, the team missed the next eight shots in the quarter and the first two of the fourth quarter. By now, the Hawks had gained a five-point lead.
“We didn’t change what we thought we needed to do,” Day said. “We have a leader like Nicole, whose going to battle. We have [sophomore] Justine [Wu] and Christine, who if they can turn the corner and we were patient after two or three passes, we’re going to get a decent look. The whole third quarter, almost, we weren’t at all doing that. We finally got back to what I wanted in the fourth quarter and that’s what we did last Saturday.”
Whitney still wouldn’t go away as it scored seven straight points with the last basket coming from a Lee pass to Hamakawa who drained a three-pointer, her fifth of the game, from the right wing to put her team up 38-36 with 4:06 left to play. But two minutes later, Knight sealed the game when Keyna Hadley took an inbound pass from under the net and scored to give the third place representatives from the Golden League a 42-38 lead.
The last chance for the Lady Wildcats to tie the game came when Wu had a good look with 15.3 seconds left. But her shot rattled in and out and six seconds later, Aniyah Terry scored on an uncontested lay-up for the final points.
Whitney wrapped up the season with a 15-12 mark and advanced to the quarterfinals for the fourth time in the last six seasons and third under Day’s watch. Whitney was looking to play in the semifinals for the first time in school history. The last time the team got this far, it was a basket from upsetting fourth seeded Rosary Academy.
”I don’t remember too far back,” Day said. “The Rosary [game], everyone knew who we were. Everyone knew who my two players were. We battled at the end and we actually missed a lay-up at the buzzer. Today, like I said to my team, we weren’t in our division ranked in the top 16 or in that “others [category]” at all, which is fine with me.”
While the Lady Wildcats lose just one impact player, Lee, who has been the team’s leading scorer the past three seasons, they figure to be very solid next season. Lee, who was touted at the heir apparent to former Whitney star Rachel Nagel, scored only four points but had seven rebounds and six assists. Hamakawa led everyone with a career-high 17 points and had five assists and four rebounds while Wu grabbed six rebounds.
“It’s where it has been,” Day said of the program. “Losing someone like Nicole [is] tough. The Nagel era is officially over when this season ends with the Nicole connection. But we’re young; the [junior varsity] team was real young; 14 freshmen on it. But our league is tough and our future…nowadays, sports are specialized and if you want to be, for the most part, one of those successful teams and advance deep, you have to be like a big family and play together. Unfortunately, nowadays, that means there’s a lot of time and sacrifice out of the 10-week season.”
The Norwalk High boys team has advanced to the Division 4 quarterfinals where it will travel to second ranked University High on Saturday. The 10th ranked Lancers (15-6-1) have posted a 4-1 victory against Oaks Christian High last Friday and a 1-0 win at Glendora High this past Wednesday evening in the playoffs and are looking to get to the semifinals for the first time in school history after four previous quarterfinal losses.
The Whitney High boys team has also reached the quarterfinals, the third time in school history, and will host the top team in Division 7, Laguna Blanca High, on Saturday. The eighth ranked Wildcats (13-4-1) previously defeated St. Michael’s Prep High 4-0 and Thacher High 1-0 in the postseason. The last time Whitney advanced to the quarterfinals was 2010.
The Valley Christian High girls soccer team is playing unstoppable soccer right now as the Lady Crusaders (18-3-3) crushed Anaheim High 7-0 this past Tuesday. It’s the 10th straight win for the second ranked team in Division 6, nine coming in shutout fashion. V.C. will host seventh ranked Jurupa Hills High tonight in a quarterfinal tilt.