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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
None of the current members of the Cerritos High girls basketball team were born when the program last finished with an undefeated league season. That came back in the 1997-1998 season when Cerritos was a member of the Mission Valley League.
The next two seasons, Lady Dons shared the league crown before winning the whole thing outright in the 2007-2008 and 2014-2015 seasons, but with 11-1 league marks. Cerritos had an opportunity to go unblemished in all 12 league games when it hosted Mayfair High this past Tuesday night. But poor shooting early on and the inability to make timely free throws cost the Lady Dons as Mayfair held on for a 67-65 win. Cerritos trailed by as many as 13 points and even by 11 points with 1:40 left to play. But the Lady Dons simply ran out of time.
“I don’t know what is about this year, but this year is a little bit different,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “Last year, it seemed like we were almost comfortable at home and away, we kind of faltered a little bit. This team is different. When we go away, they play a little better.”
Defensively, the Lady Dons came out strong, forcing half a dozen turnovers in the opening quarter. But they were unable to turn those miscues into points and converted on four of 18 field goals in the opening stanza as the Monsoons built a 21-11 lead. Cerritos was able to cut its deficit to four points late in the second quarter after a three-pointer from sophomore Lindsay Fujihiro and trailed by five points at halftime. But the Lady Dons would go into the break shooting 31 percent from the field and missing six of 14 free throws.
“We just didn’t execute and take advantage of their turnovers,” Chinen said. “We just couldn’t score. [Senior] Ifeoma [Okoli] got into foul trouble early and that’s a big difference right there, when you have to take that big presence off the court.”
Cerritos would get within four points again less than two minutes into the second half before the Monsoons, who had lost at home by two points to Cerritos on Jan. 11, increased their lead to 11 points following Sarah Clausen’s basket off of one of her three offensive rebounds in the third quarter.
The Lady Dons, though, began to rev up its shooting and went on a 19-10 run that ended 65 seconds into the fourth quarter. But Mayfair would respond with a 9-0 run and held a 62-51 lead. That’s when senior Cailey Vitug took over. After being held to 12 points in the first half, Vitug hit three straight three-pointers in a span of 40 seconds and just like that, Mayfair was clinging to a 63-62 lead with 32.9 seconds left.
But Ayah League, who had 10 points in the fourth quarter, iced the game with four straight free throws before Vitug’s last three-pointer at the buzzer ended the game. Vitug, in her final regular season home game, scored a career-high 31 points on 11 of 21 shooting from the field. She also had four rebounds and three steals. In her last four games, Vitug has scored 75 points.
“We try to get her to go to the basket and she tries to draw the contact,” Chinen said. “And a lot of times, she doesn’t get the contact. That’s one of the main things we try to work on her this year. She didn’t shoot the ball very well in the first half. But in the second half, when we really needed it, she was able to come through for us.”
Senior Teresa Torres added eight points while Fujihiro and Okoli each pitched in with seven points. Okoli also had eight rebounds and three steals while Fujihiro had four rebounds and three steals.
The loss to Mayfair also snapped a 12-game winning streak as the Lady Dons will enter next week’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs with a 17-9 record. Last season, Cerritos was 17-11 and finished in second place in the league with a 10-2 mark, both losses coming to Mayfair.
“I think, through the girls and just speaking to them and watching their body language, I’m sure it hurts a little bit and they’re disappointed,” Chinen said. “But you know what, we’re co-Suburban League champs and I’ll take it. We put one up there (pointing to Suburban League girls basketball champions banner) and I’m hoping that in the playoffs, whoever goes to the playoffs from the Suburban League, I hope we all have a great turnout as far as all of us going far in the playoffs.”
Following the game, the Cerritos boys stayed within a possession or two with the Monsoons throughout the first quarter. But Mayfair outscored the Dons 22-8 in the second quarter en route to a 74-58 win. The Dons end the regular season at 13-14 overall and 8-4 in league play, good enough for third place.
The last Cerritos lead came at 10-8 midway through the opening stanza on a three-pointer from junior Vincent Biscoe. A downtown shot from junior Dorian Harris with 3.8 seconds remaining made it an 18-16 Mayfair advantage. Another trifecta from Harris brought Cerritos to within two points again 40 seconds into the second quarter. After that, it was all Mayfair, who went on a 19-5 run the remainder of the half.
Harris came off the bench to post a career-high 19 points and also grabbed six rebounds while junior Destin Flucas added 14 points and eight rebounds.
The basketball playoff brackets will be released Sunday afternoon with wild card games, if necessary, beginning on Tuesday for the boys and girls and first round games on Wednesday for the boys and Thursday for the girls.