Girls BB: Frosh emerges at MLK event

In a matchup between state’s No. 5 and No. 7 girls teams on Saturday at the St. Mary’s MLK Showcase in Stockton, No. 7 Harvard-Westlake tops No. 5 Salesian of Richmond thanks to a breakout performance from freshman Oki Iriafen.

Kiki Iriafen was more than okay in her outing on Saturday for Harvard-Westlake against Salesian of Richmond. Photo: Mark Tennis.

It’s not like she was timid from the start, but 6-foot-2 freshman center Kiki Iriafen of the Harvard-Westlake girls basketball team gained more and more confidence as Saturday’s matchup vs. Salesian of Richmond was unfolding during the first day of games at the St. Mary’s MLK Showcase held in Stockton.

Iriafen has been one of the Wolverines’ top three players in the early portion of the season along with returning juniors Jayla and Jayda Ruffus-Milner. Going up against Salesian would be a big test for her since the Pride features one of the state’s top junior centers, 6-foot-5 Angel Jackson.

Jackson was hard to handle, but Iriafen came through with a game-high 22 points and also grabbed 17 rebounds as Harvard-Westlake posted a 54-39 triumph.

With the win, head coach Melisssa Hearlihy’s girls improved to 16-3 and should move up from its No. 7 overall state ranking. The Wolverines have been as high as fourth in the state and continue to look like a strong contender for the CIF Southern California Open Division title.

Salesian entered the day at No. 5 in the state and was at No. 3 before it lost to Folsom in the semifinals of the West Coast Jamboree Platinum Division. The Pride had a hard time converting inside shots and dropped to 11-3 overall.

“It was important to win this game and important I got to play against someone that big,” Iriafen said. “Usually, I’m the biggest girl out there. I have to get used to those times when I’m not.”

Iriafen gave Harvard-Westlake its last lead on a basket during the final seconds of the third quarter. Before then, the Pride and their hard-nosed defense had helped forge a 33-31 lead. Then in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, the Wolverines scored the first six points. It was still 44-39 heading into the final three minutes of the game, but Salesian didn’t score again. Made free throws simply extended the final margin by 10 more points.

The Ruffus-Milner twins, who are both committed to Pepperdine, had their moments with two driving layups each when their team took control of the game. They combined for 16 points.

Salesian only had one double-figure scorer as Sydni Stewart hit for 11 points. Jackson got her share of rebounds but only scored seven points. Despite the final score, the Pride does have the depth and potential to go deep in the CIF NorCal Open Division. Unlike the south, though, there are two more dominant team they would have to deal with in Archbishop Mitty (No. 1 in state) and St. Mary’s of Stockton (No. 2 in state).

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