Girls Regional Finals: Windward sails past Mater Dei, O’Dowd next

Windward of Los Angeles, led by Courtney Jaco, Macchi Smith, Jordin Canada and Kristen Simon (l-r) are one win from state team of the year honors with 324 students in grades 9 through 12 at the school.

Windward of Los Angeles, led by Courtney Jaco, Macchi Smith, Jordin Canada and Kristen Simon (l-r) are one win from state team of the year honors with 379 students in grades 9 through 12 at the school.

Wildcats, Dragons punch tickets to first CIF Open Division championship. Windward wins showdown over Mater Dei 81-71 in the south while Dragons top St. Mary’s of Stockton 58-50 in the north. Check inside for full analysis and highlights of each girls regional final.

By Harold Abend & Paul Muyskens

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It wasn’t the national No. 1 versus No. 2 that was shaping up before Mater Dei was upset in the CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA playoffs by Etiwanda, but it was a battle of California’s top two teams in a game that was everything it was cracked up to be.

In the end, it was the team speed of Windward (32-0), the play of Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year leading candidate Jordin Canada, the inside presence of Kristen Simon, and Windward matching Mater Dei shot for shot from the outside, most notably by 3-point record-maker Courtney Jaco.

“Mater Dei is a great program with a great legacy, but our girls weren’t intimidated,” first-year coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “We were focused on what we were going to do.”

Particularly focused was Canada, who was out of this world in all aspects of her game. The 5-foot-7 junior that many girls basketball analysts feel is the best point guard in the country in any class, had 17 points and an unbelievable 14 assists, with five rebounds.

Her court vision and the ability to make spot on passes to girls without even looking at them was remarkable. In fact, her capacity to drive and then no-look a pass to open teammates positioned beyond the arc, resulted in eight of her assists coming on eight of the 10 Windward 3-pointers.

“Jordin is the only high school player I would pay to see,” mused Nygaard, a Carlsbad grad who played at Stanford and coached at Pepperdine before coming to Windward.

Jaco, who is bound for USC, increased her season total to 142 3-pointers on 6-of-12 shooting from outside the circle. She finished with a game-high 26 points.

Simon, who is starting to get major interest from some top programs throughout the nation, controlled the paint as she has against every team she’s faced. The solidly-built 6-foot-1 junior had another of her patented double-doubles after finishing with 14 points and 17 rebounds, with three blocks.

“No high school girl can guard her,” said Nygaard. “She has the body of a 26-year old woman.”

“We weren’t going to be the first team to stop Simon. That’s our match-up problem. Our biggest girls are guards,” said Mater Dei Coach Kevin Kiernan, who sees his team’s streak of three straight state titles come to an end.

Two of those guards are State Sophomore of the Year leading candidate Katie Lou Samuelson and her Stanford-bound senior sister Karlie Samuelson. Between them, they were 6-of-13 from 3-point range, with Katie Lou finishing with 23 points (3-of-6 on threes) and Karlie with 14 points on 3-of-7 from long range. A third guard, sophomore Andee Velasco, was 3-of-7 on treys and finished with 11 points.

As a team, Mater Dei was 11-of-29 on 3-pointers (37.9 percent) but Windward even outdid the Monarchs even there, connecting for 43.5 percent on 10-of-23 from beyond the arc.

Mater Dei (30-2) fell behind 48-31 early in the third quarter and refused to quit, but every effort at a comeback was thwarted by Windward’s defense and Canada’s playmaking.

“It was a kitchen sink game for us. We threw everything we had at them,” Kiernan remarked. “We really had no answer, every press, every half-court, every zone.”

The Open Division state championship between Windward and Bishop O’Dowd will be a rematch of the title game of the Oaks Christian tournament in late December, where Windward prevailed 58-43.

Dragons slay St. Mary’s in No. 1 vs. No. 2 NorCal battle

It was a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the CIF Northern California Open Division championship just like in the south with the difference that No. 1 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland isn’t unbeaten and already had defeated No. 2 St. Mary’s of Stockton 80-59 in January.

This time, St. Mary’s led at halftime and clearly gave O’Dowd all it could handle, but the Dragons (29-3) gradually pulled away for a 58-50 victory and set up a rematch of a different kind against unbeaten state No. 1 Windward of Los Angeles in next week’s first CIF Open Division state final. In this case, it will be the Dragons that lost in the earlier meeting 58-43 at the Oaks Christian tournament.

Showing early on that they weren’t going to let the Dragons run away from them, the Rams (30-3) took an early 8-6 lead before Oderah Chidom took advantage down low with back-to-back baskets to spark an 11-1 run that allowed the Dragons to lead 17-13 after one quarter of play. Chidom would finish with a game-high 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Told late in the first quarter by a referee, “That’s enough,” St. Mary’s head coach Tom Gonsalves was hit with a technical foul early in the second quarter. Shortly after the technical and trailing 21-13, the Rams responded with some fight like their coach as they went on a 14-0 run to take a 27-21 lead that they would maintained 33-28 at halftime. Onome Jemerigbe scored six of her 11 points during that run, including a fall away floater right before the shot clock expired to tie the game at 21 apiece.

“I really thought we deserved to win that game,” said Gonsalves after the game. “I thought our players deserved to win this game. My hats off to our players. Their effort was unbelievable. When fighting such a height disadvantage you have to overcome so many obstacles in so many different areas. I’m so impressed with them. In our system if you let somebody impede you, your progress, we don’t have no offense. There was hands on our ball handlers the whole game and that is just such an advantage for the defense. It is what it is.”

Coming out of the halftime break with a bigger focus on defensive communication and limiting the Rams from driving to their right, the Dragons’ defense held the Rams without a basket for over four minutes. During that span, Asha Thomas scored six straight points to turn a 37-32 deficit into a 38-37 lead and her 3-pointer near the end of the quarter gave her 11 points in the quarter. O’Dowd had a 46-44 lead after three quarters and did not give the lead thereafter. Thomas finished with second-best 16 points.

“We came out flat and we did a better job of that in the second half,” said Dragons’ head coach Malik McCord. “We weren’t talking on defense in the first half.”

Once again in the fourth quarter, the Rams went through a lengthy scoring drought as they trailed 50-47 with 5:43 remaining but gave up six straight before a Kat Tudor three-pointer with 1:21 left cut the deficit to six. The Rams had a chance to cut into that lead, but were unable to knock down several open looks as Chidom added two free throws for the game’s final points in the final seconds.

“We played multiple teams twice,” said Chidom on facing the Rams for a second time this season. “We know it is harder to beat a team the second time. We focus on not underestimating them and playing harder the second time we face them.”

“It was a hard fought game and I expected it to be close like this and a battle,” said McCord. “I’m proud of our team and I’m looking forward to next weekend. We were looking forward to wanting to win the open division this year because there is such a hype to it.”

McCord and the girls know that the last time they played Windward was a forgetful experience.

“We aren’t going to worry about them,” he said. “We are going to stay focused. In the six years that I have been here and four years as head coach that was the second worst game I’ve ever seen an O’Dowd team play. That was one of those games that I almost took their uniforms. It was that bad. They will have their chance at revenge and making up for that game next weekend.”

In other CIF Southern California regional finals:

Division I
Long Beach Poly 63, Canyon Springs (Moreno Valley) 40

The Jackrabbits won their sixth Southern Regional Division I title, and although they’re not going to Sacramento in the Open Division, they’re back after a two-year absence for a chance to win a fifth state championship in their actual enrollment division.

“We wanted to control the pace, the paint and play good defense, and that exactly what we did,” Poly head coach Carl Buggs remarked.

Poly (29-5) trailed 9-6 early before Kansas-bound Keyla Morgan (nine points) and sophomore Tania Lamb ignited a 25-8 run, and just like that it was 33-17 and the starch was out of Canyon Springs.

“I felt I need to help takeover early but I just do whatever the team needs,” Morgan said.

Lamb led all scorers with 16 points, and junior Jada Matthews added 10 points. Canyon Springs (23-10) got 14 points and nine rebounds from junior Cheyenne Greenhouse and 11 points from Ashleigh Sparks.

Division II
Lynwood 60, Ridgeview (Bakersfield) 42

It’s official. “The Wood” is back.

In a surprising turnaround from a two-point loss early in the season, three-time Division I state champion Lynwood will be returning to Sacramento for a shot at a fourth title, only this time in Division II, after a rout of the girls from the CIF Central Section, in a game they never trailed.

Lynwood (28-5) used its superior size and speed right from the outset, sprinting out to a 10-2 lead midway through the first quarter and building it to 36-14 at the half. The margin eventually bulged to 44-16 before Ridgeview finally began to generate some offense.

“The difference is this time we focused on the task at hand,” Lynwood head coach Ellis Barfield said. “Last time we felt we overlooked them because we played them in the summer and fall.”

CSU Bakersfield-bound 6-foot guard Alize Lofton led three Knights in double figure scoring with 16 points and nine rebounds, with seven assists and four steals. CSU Northridge-committed 6-foot-2 center Amber Blockmon added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and played great defense on Ridgeview’s McDonald’s All-American Erica McCall. Junior guard Priscilla Lopez chipped in with 15 points, including seven in the first quarter.

Stanford-bound McCall had 19 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and finishes as the state’s career all-time bet shot-blocker with 950 blocks. Her team ends 29-4.

“Going back to Sacramento is a great feeling for me. I want the kids to feel. It’s the payoff,” Barfield remarked. “Now, we’re not just playing for ourselves, but for our school, our families, and the community.”

Division III
Alemany (Mission Hills) 60, Chaminade (West Hills) 47

In the third meeting of the season between Mission League rivals, it was top-seed Alemany (31-5) winning the rubber match and the one that counts most, in by far the biggest margin of victory of the three games. The Warriors now advance to their first ever state championship game.

Leslie Lopez-Wood and Hannah Johnson led the way for Alemany with 15 points apiece. Johnson also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.

A huge factor in the game was Alemany being sent to the free throw line 35 times where it made 19. Chaminade only shot nine free-throws and made six. Chaminade (31-4) completed the best season in school history. Cassie MacLeod led the way with 12 points.

Division IV
Serra (Gardena) 63, St. Bernard (Playa del Rey) 54

Top-seed Serra (29-5) jumped out to a 22-14 lead after one quarter and held its ground the rest of the way to advance to its first-ever state championship title game appearance.

Michigan-bound Serra senior guard Siera Thompson led all scorers with 24 points. Cala Halley had 13 points, Oregon-commit Deandrea Toler added 12 points and Seattle-bound Tatiana Howard chipped in with eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

St. Bernard (27-8) was looking to advance to its seventh state championship title game where the Vikings have won three Division IV titles in six appearances. The Vikings were led by Chenelle Pelle (13 points and 14 rebounds) and Duke-bound Lajahna Drummer. She also had a double-double 13 points and 10 rebounds.

With the victory by Serra, the matchup with Salesian next week in Sacramento is the one most everyone predicted when Berkeley St. Mary’s in the north and Windward and La Jolla Country Day in the south were moved up to Open Division.

Division V
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 63, Horizon (San Diego) 62

The depth of Sierra Canyon (22-9, not including forfeits) was just a little bit too much for the girls from Horizon and its freshman phenom Dijonai Carrington. Instead, it was a pair of underclass standouts for Sierra Canyon that led the way with monster performances.

Kennedy Burke, a 6-foot-1 sophomore had game-highs of 28 points and 24 rebounds, while sophomore Cheyanne Wallace was right behind her with 20 points and 18 rebounds. Horizon (25-8) was led by Carrington with 24 points and seven rebounds.

In other CIF Northern California regional girls finals:

Division I
Berkeley 56, Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 45

They talked like they were the underdog after the game but if history is an indication, it should have been expected that the Yellowjackets would capture their 12th NorCal title. Led by Rachel Howard and her 23 points and nine rebounds, Berkeley jumped on the Trojans after they took an 8-0 lead with a 31-3 run to take control of the game. Desire Finnie had 14 points in the win while the Trojans (28-5) got 17 points from Ali Bettencourt.

“This has been a memorable season for me because I once told the girls you never know where you are going to go until you know where you’ve been,” said head coach Cheryl Draper after the game. “A lot of the players on this team have never been at this type of level.”

Looking for one more memorable addition to end of the season, Berkeley (22-11) will now head to Sacramento looking for a state title.

Division II
St. Francis (Mountain View) 44, Lynbrook (San Jose) 19

In a rematch of the CIF Central Coast Section open division semifinals, won by St. Francis 37-27, it was the Lancers (24-8) who once again came out victorious but this time by a much larger margin. They opened up a 11-2 lead after the first quarter and the dominance continued. Shelbi Aimonetti led coach Brian Harrigan’s winning team with 15 points while Jennifer Lucian added 12 points. Sara Dyslin scored a team-high seven points for the Vikings, who finish 24-6.

Division III
Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 46, St. Ignatius (San Francisco) 28

For the fifth time this season, these two teams faced each other and for the fifth time the Irish came away with the win. The Irish (26-6) did it this time by the largest margin to earn a trip to the state finals and claim their seventh NorCal regional title. This was the first for head coach LyRyan Russell. The other six were with former head coach Brian Harrigan.

Three of their four previous wins against the Wildcats (21-11) this season were by single digits, but this one wasn’t in doubt. Junior Kairee Howard scored a game-high 12 points while teammates Briannah Smith and Ashanti Coleman also scored in double-digits. Sydney Raggio led the Wildcats with eight points in the loss.

Division IV
Salesian (Richmond) 53, Piedmont 43

Led by a balanced scoring effort that saw five players score at least six points, the Pride (29-7) opened up a 15-3 lead after the first quarter on their way to the victory. They are returning to the D4 state final after losing in last year’s game to La Jolla Country Day. Kian McNair scored a team-high 13 points while Zoe Correal added 11 points. Salesian needed those two to step up with standout Mariya Moore struggling and only scoring nine points.

Maddie Mills scored a game-high 19 points and Lauren Seyranian added 17 points for the Highlanders (24-10), but it wasn’t enough as only three others scored a combined seven points. Salesian led 27-12 at halftime and extended the lead to 18 after three quarters of play.

Division V
Pinewood (Los Altos Hills) 48, Eastside College Prep (Palo Alto) 36

After three double-digit losses to Eastside College Prep this season, Pinewood finally was able to win the one that meant the most with a double-digit win in a battle of two schools with the same mascot. Leeana Bade scored a game-high 18 points while Marrisa Hing scored a second-best 17 points as she went a perfect 13-for-13 from the free throw line. Charmai Bradford led Eastside College Prep with 14 points in the loss.

Eastside College Prep (23-9) was trying to make its first CIF state finals’ appearance. Pinewood (23-7) is going to its seventh state final. Coach Doc Scheppler’s girls won the title in 2011 and have five CIF state titles in all.

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