After taking down state and nation’s No. 1 team in the regional semifinals, a different unbeaten team, Miramonte of Orinda, cruises past Pinewood of Los Altos Hills to win CIF Northern California Open Division crown. The Matadors, with their one All-American, advance to their first Open Division state final where they will play Chaminade of West Hills and its two All-Americans. Chaminade defeated Long Beach Poly on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win SoCal Open Division title. Ronnie Flores wrote recap on the SoCal Open final.
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After what it did to previous national No. 1 St. Mary’s of Stockton, it was supposed to be Pinewood that was the 3-point shooting happy team, but in Saturday’s CIF Northern California Open Division title game the tables got turned on the girls from the Peninsula.
Instead, top-seeded Miramonte (32-0) came out firing from long range and never cooled off en route to a 73-40 win at Sleep Train Arena in which the Matadors outplayed Pinewood in every aspect of the game.
“After beating Salesian (Richmond), it was like going from David to Goliath but we were prepared and I felt confident,” said Miramonte head coach Kelly Sopak, whose team is expected to replace St. Mary’s in the top spot in the next Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20.
Gatorade State Player of the Year and McDonald’s All-American Sabrina Ionescu, the ESPN No. 1 rated guard and No. 4 player overall in the nation, put on a show after registering a double-double 29 points and 16 rebounds with six assists and four steals.
Sophomore Claire Steele added 14 points (4-of-7 on three-pointers), all in the first half, and Eastern Washington-bound Uriah Howard also double-doubled after finishing with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
As a team, Miramonte shot 43 percent overall (28-of-65) and 33 percent (11-of-33) from 3-point range. On the other hand, Pinewood was only 14-of-60 from the field (23 percent) and 5-of-24 (21 percent) from outside the arc.
“Pinewood is a great shooting team but we’re one of the best shooting teams in the nation,” Sopak remarked. “Not only did we shoot well but it’s a credit to our team that we really buckled down on their shooters and singled out the one we wanted to stop.”
Pinewood (24-6) had no player hit double-figure scoring. The Panthers were led by Hannah Jump with eight points, but while the freshman was 5-of-7 from the free-throw line she was only 1-of-8 shooting from the field and had trouble as all the Pinewood girls did getting separation for their long-range shooting.
“We made their shooters not shoot, drivers not drive and took care of business,” said Ionescu, who did nothing to change her status as the leading candidate for Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year.
Miramonte led 15-8 after the first quarter on the strength of eight points by Ionescu that included two three-pointers. Things got worse quickly for Pinewood when Steele opened the second quarter with her second three-ball, Elle Louie hit a three-pointer, Ionescu followed with a basket that was followed by another three-point shot by Steele.
When Steele hit her fourth three-pointer to end the first half, Miramonte had a 34-15 lead that at one point stretched to 60-23 in the early fourth quarter.
“Everyone has the green light and Claire has done that in big games before, but in the second half the seniors said we couldn’t let her score all the points,” Sopak mused.
For Pinewood, the result could not have been more of a turnabout than Tuesday’s 72-69 victory over St. Mary’s.
“The fallout from a game like Tuesday is how do you come from a game like that to this?” Pinewood head coach Doc Scheppler asked in retrospect and then answered himself. “It’s very disappointing when you play a game like this and don’t play to your potential, but in a game of this magnitude sometimes things just go out the window – and we just didn’t have it today.”
Miramonte certainly had it on Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena and it didn’t really matter to the girls that it wasn’t St. Mary’s they defeated even though they lost to the Stockton girls 67-52 in last year’s NorCal Open final.
“We all kind of wanted a shot to get back at St. Mary’s for last year but it’s not about who you beat to get to a state championship it’s about winning,” Ionescu remarked.
“We were determined to get back here and win no matter who it was,” Sopak added. “They don’t judge you about how easy the path was; it’s completing the journey.”
To complete the journey and win its first state championship, Miramonte will have to defeat Chaminade of West Hills next Saturday night back at Sleep Train Arena.
SoCal Girls Open:
To see video of game-winning shot, CLICK HERE.
The rubber match between SoCal’s two top-ranked teams wasn’t decided until the final possession, and it’s fitting because each team won one game coming in and battled back and forth in this game. There were 12 lead changes on Saturday night, but the final one sent Chaminade to the CIF Open Division state final versus Miramonte (Orinda) in what will be a battle of the state¹s two top-ranked clubs next Saturday evening in Sacramento.
Chaminade (30-4) turned the ball over with 27.4 seconds remaining and the game tied at 47-47. Long Beach Poly (27-5) then took the lead on a lay-up by senior guard Da’Jah Jackson with 9.1 seconds left. On the Eagles’ last possession, the play was designed for a pick and roll with the team’s two best players — senior Valerie Higgins and running mate, Leaonna Odom, both who are multi-dimensional forwards who impact the game as much as any girls high school duo we’ve seen in recent memory.
On this play, Odom decided to cut back towards the 3-point line instead of roll to the basket. She took a couple of dribbles, stepped back and launched a 3-pointer that looked straight, but flat and short. Amazingly, the shot got a soft shooter¹s roll even though it was launched in a bit of desperation 20 feet from the basket, bounced a couple of times around the rim and dropped in at the buzzer to give the CIFSS Open Division champions a dramatic one-point victory.
“I thought I should have rolled on that, but I cut back, dribbled a couple of times, but didn’t think I could get to the rim before time ran out,” said Odom, who finished with game-highs of 19 points and 17 rebounds. “When it kept bouncing, I knew it was going to go in. I just starting jumping up and down. It was my first game-winner.”
Although Higgins didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (2-of-17), she impacted the game in other ways with her vision, passing and all-around court presence. She finished with nine points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and five steals.
Chaminade also defeated Poly in the CIFSS Open Division title game, 72-63. In the two team’s first meeting at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona, a 50-39 Poly win, Odom left the game with a head injury and Higgins eventually fouled out.
In Saturday’s game, Chaminade led at halftime 29-25, but Poly stormed back to take a 37-31 lead with 2:04 remaining in the third period on Jackson’s field goal. Despite getting outplayed in the period, Chaminade seized back momentum by closing out the last two minutes of the quarter on a 7-0 run capped by Odom¹s 3-pointer with nine seconds on the clock. Ironically, that shot turned out to be the difference, just as much as her final dagger, because both teams scored 12 points in the final period.
“I thought it was going to be short at the front of the rim and bounce up, but once it went low and died, I said, ‘It’s going to go in,'” Long Beach Poly coach Carl Buggs said. ³You got to give her (Odom) credit, big time players make big time plays.
“I’m extremely proud of my team, they played hard from beginning to the end. We had an opportunity to win, the ball just went in at the end. We just hate to see our season end on shot like that.”
Jackson (11 points) was one of three Poly players in double figures. Junior center Ayanna Clark led the way with 13 points while also grabbing 17 rebounds. Junior guard Danae Miller added 11 points and six rebounds.
Poly out-rebounded Chaminade, 46-34, but the 3-point shooting was a major factor in the outcome of the game. Poly made only 2-of-15, while the Eagles converted 7-of-22, none bigger, of course, than Odom¹s clutch shots.
“We had a bad shooting night, but we made the shot that made the difference,” Chaminade coach Kelli Di Muro said. “Neah played great tonight. Valarie and Neah’s pick and roll game was just awesome. I told her, ‘If you can get open on the screen, take the three and we will win the game.’ It’s a tribute to her (Odom’s) work ethic and shooting every single day.”
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend