Defending CIF Open Division champion Windward of Los Angeles falls in the final minute of the top divisional title game at the nation’s most prestigious girls basketball tournament. In the Joe Smith Division, an all-California final is won by Redondo of Redondo Beach in another heart-stopper by three points against Mater Dei of Santa Ana. Monarchs’ head coach Kevin Kiernan is denied in first attempt to become state’s all-time career coaching wins record holder and will try again after Christmas.
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The way Windward of Los Angeles had combined impressive perimeter shooting with consistent defensive intensity throughout the 22nd Nike Tournament of Champions, it seemed improbable the Wildcats would relinquish an eight-point lead with 2:30 remaining Saturday against Miami Country Day in the Clare Droesch Division final played in Phoenix.
But the never-say-die Spartans, who had already produced last-second heroics the previous two days to prevail against St. John’s College of Washington D.C. and New Hope Academy of Maryland, saved their most clutch performance for the tournament’s conclusion at Power House Hoops Complex.
Koi Love, a Vanderbilt signee who had all 15 of her points in the second half, scored on a rebound putback with 5.6 seconds remaining to help Miami Country Day rally for a 52-51 victory and its first Nike TOC title.
Maria Alvarez, who made the tying 3-pointer and winning free throw for the Spartans (8-1) in a 61-60 overtime triumph in Friday’s semifinals against New Hope, hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 75 seconds to spark another comeback and earn the tournament’s most outstanding player honors.
“That shot yesterday was insane and it’s never happened in my life before, but then today, it’s like you’ve got to play in a new game and you can’t keep that in your mind. When we were down six, we just knew we needed quick shots, so we just kept going and going,” said Alvarez, a South Florida signee who finished with 15 points.
“The lead they had on us was insane, for the entire game. But we never gave up, we can never give up. We put so much work into all of this that there was literally not a moment in a single game that we gave up on this. We work through these situations all the time and it’s honestly just about executing our game plan.”
Love’s layup was the only lead of the game for Miami Country Day, whose largest margin of victory in the tournament was nine points.
Windward (12-2) reached the final by defeating Riverdale Baptist of Maryland (9-2), Crestwood Prep of Canada (10-2) and Christ The King of New York (4-4) by an average of 18 points. The Wildcats, ranked fourth in the state coming into the event, led Miami Country Day by 13 in the third quarter, but managed only one field goal in the final six minutes.
“When people see how hard we work these kids, we know we’re going to have some energy at the end of games,” Miami Country Day coach Ochiel Swaby said. “We condition the heck out of them and they’re in the weight room every day because we condition them to be effective at the end of games. We know in a tight game, we should have an extra push and that showed (Saturday).”
Although junior McKayla Williams carried Windward with 23 points to earn all-tournament honors, it was the uncharacteristic struggles from reigning Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Charisma Osborne that hurt the Wildcats down the stretch in pursuit of their first Nike TOC title since 2012.
Osborne, also an all-tournament honoree, scored her lone point on a free throw with 29 seconds remaining to give Windward a 51-50 lead, but missed the second attempt, allowing Miami Country Day to play for the final shot.
“When you have some players with a lot of experience, there are some expectations that they should step up in those moments. It’s still really early in the season for us and we have some new players in there and they’re still getting used to it,” Windward coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “Four games in four days is a lot of energy that has to be expended by these kids and we’ll never see that again in our season. I think that fatigue is really tough for the kids because they’re young, and then handling that, along with the attention and the pressure, it’s a lot. But I also think it’s a good opportunity for them to learn.”
India Otto added 12 points to support Williams for Windward, but Swaby praised the collective effort of his defense to hold the UCLA-bound Osborne without a field goal.
“As a coach, you never want the other team’s best player to beat you and that’s kind of been our mantra. We knew Osborne was huge in terms of their effectiveness, her ability to knock down threes or creating momentum,” Swaby said. “We want to try to eliminate the other team’s best player and hope the other players can’t beat us and today we got lucky. (Otto) hit some tough shots, so credit to her, but we were going to live with (Williams) making twos versus Osborne hitting threes.”
Windward will have time to regroup before a Jan. 3 intersectional game against Fresno Central (9-0), but Williams knows a valuable lesson was learned that she hopes can benefit the Wildcats in their pursuit to repeat as Open Division state champions.
“We thought we had it and we didn’t finish,” Williams said. “I think it’s really important because now we know everything we need to have in order to finish. Even if we think we have the advantage on a team or we think we’re better, anything can happen like we just saw, and we just need to be ready and play our best, no matter who we’re playing.”
California’s No. 1 ranked team, according to the most recent Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20, also was entered in the Clare Droesch Division field, but Archbishop Mitty of San Jose (5-2) lost in its first two games.
Redondo win keeps
Mater Dei coach in a tie
Kevin Kiernan’s bid to break the California state record for most girls basketball coaching victories was put on hold Saturday.
That’s because Redondo Union of Redondo Beach recorded its most impressive comeback of the season against Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the Joe Smith Division final at the 22nd annual Nike Tournament of Champions at the Power House Hoops Complex in Phoenix.
Redondo, last year’s CIF Division II state champion, capped a memorable week by winning its fourth game in as many days, rallying with the final seven points – including the winning 3-pointer with 7.9 seconds left from junior Alyssa Munn – and holding Mater Dei scoreless for the last 4:10 to prevail 43-40 to secure its first Nike TOC crown.
“We’ve got 11 kids returning from a state championship team and it was just a matter of whether they could still stir the magic and if they still had the passion to compete and want to be the best. They’ve come out here and proven that,” said Redondo head coach Marcelo Enriquez, whose team was making its first appearance at Nike TOC since 2005.
“It’s been absolutely just stunning for me and these girls. I’m just so proud of them.
“If you had told me we would be in the finals of this, let alone win it, I would have laughed prior. I thought we would have a chance, maybe a slight chance.”
Since back-to-back losses to Etiwanda and Windward in November at its own Battle at the Beach tournament, Redondo (9-2) has won seven in a row, including a 65-28 victory Thursday over Stockton St. Mary’s (8-2) followed by a 57-49 semifinal win Friday over Highlands Ranch of Colorado (9-1). In the most recent Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20 rankings done after games of Dec. 8, Windward was No. 4, Etiwanda No. 5, St. Mary’s No. 10 and Mater Dei No. 7. Redondo was only on the bubble at 3-2, but obviously in the next rankings (which won’t be done until after next week’s holiday tournaments are done) the Sea Hawks will be in the top 10 or close to the top 5.
“After those losses, we really had to pull together and start playing great as a team. That’s where our success comes from, when we’re playing as a team and sharing the ball,” said sophomore Calli Stokes, who led the Sea Hawks with 12 points to earn all-tournament honors.
“They are all great programs and great teams, but we knew we could do it, we just had to believe in ourselves. We just couldn’t go out and press play, we had to give it our all every game and we pulled through against some really good teams.”
Munn, selected the division’s most outstanding player, made her only field goal of the championship game a significant one by receiving a pass from Anna Johnson on the left wing and connecting on a 3-pointer to help Redondo complete its comeback from a 40-36 deficit.
“It was more of just being in the moment. It was a shot that wasn’t forced, it was within our offense and what we had anticipated and what we planned. It was just a shot that was open and I just took the chance to make it for the team,” Munn said. “It means a lot. I trust them with everything as well. I’d give any of them the ball (in that situation) and trust that they would do the same. We have great chemistry and honestly on any given night, any of us could step up.”
Dylan Horton and Johnson both had nine points for Redondo, each contributing crucial baskets during the final two minutes, in addition to coming up with timely defensive stops.
“There was a timeout with 3:11 and we were still down by four and I told them, ‘I’m going to find out how much guts you girls really have right now,’ and they went out there and competed and they never quit,” Enriquez said. “That’s this team. They have great chemistry, they believe in each other, they love each other and they just love to compete.”
Mater Dei (14-2) hadn’t faced many competitive stretches in lopsided victories over Carondelet, Dillard of Florida and Cherry Creek of Colorado to reach the final, the latter Friday helping Kiernan tie legendary Buena of Ventura coach Joe Vaughan with 761 wins. Vaughan retired with that total after the 2007 season.
But despite overcoming an early nine-point deficit to lead 24-22 at halftime, Mater Dei couldn’t protect its late advantage, an issue that also cost the Monarchs in a 56-52 loss Dec. 8 to Etiwanda at the Troy Classic Shootout.
“We had two one and ones with a four-point lead and we missed a layup before that. We had a chance to extend that lead to six to eight and I think that would have done it, but we’re a young team and one of our biggest issues in this young season has been executing under pressure,” Kiernan said. “We get a little nervous and that’s something we have to work on. That’s an area of growth for us that we hope to improve.”
Brooke Demetre had 10 points and seven rebounds, with Cailyn Crocker adding five points for Mater Dei, as both individuals earned all-tournament honors. But it was the play of the Monarchs’ bench, especially receiving six points apiece from seniors Katie Fitzgerald and Destiny Sambrano, that helped Mater Dei withstand Redondo’s early surge and shift the momentum in the second and third quarters.
“Our bench played well all weekend and especially (Saturday) and that’s great for their confidence because they want to start. It’s hit or miss somedays, but we just hope that when they get the opportunity, they take advantage of it and they did (Saturday),” Kiernan said. “This team is an unbelievable team to coach and the wins are great, but we love working with them. We’re happy with where we’re at, but hopefully we can get better at executing under pressure against good teams. I give a lot of credit to Redondo. They did a great job.”
Enriquez knew of Redondo’s potential to spoil Kiernan’s bid for history. But Mater Dei won’t have to wait long for an opportunity to not only face another reigning state champion, last year’s Division I winner Serra of Gardena, but also try to produce the record-setting 762nd victory for Kiernan when the Monarchs open play Wednesday at the So Cal Holiday Prep Classic in San Diego.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kevin. We’ve both been at it for quite a while and he’s accomplished so much,” Enriquez said. “He does things the right way and that’s why I have so much respect for him. We have a lot of respect for each other and to see him eventually accomplish that, it’s well deserved.”
Redondo returns to action Thursday at the Diamond State Classic in Delaware against Monsignor Scanlan of New York (6-0).
“We’ve just got to keep moving forward, so now it’s on to what’s next,” Munn said. “We want more challenges and win or lose, as a unit we just want to keep growing stronger and stronger.”
More Nike TOC Title Games
John Anderson Division:
Long Beach Poly 40, Rosary (Fullerton) 32
The teams are scheduled for a rematch Wednesday in the opening game of the So Cal Holiday Prep Classic in San Diego, but the Jackrabbits (6-4) wanted to enjoy the moment Saturday, winning their sixth in a row after starting the season with four consecutive losses.
Sophomore Simone Morris earned the division’s most outstanding player honors after scoring 18 points, with junior Ashlee Lewis adding 12 points and 12 rebounds for Long Beach Poly, which atoned for a lopsided loss to Rosary during its fall showcase schedule to capture its first Nike TOC championship since winning the Black Division title in 2007.
“This turnaround is a true indication of how much we’ve improved. To pull this win off here and win this championship is huge because we’ve got so much more upside,” Jackrabbits coach Carl Buggs said. “We played some great teams to start, but 0-4 is still 0-4. After that, we were able to win two league games pretty easy and get our feet back underneath us and that was good for our psyche coming here. Once we got our first win here, it was like everything was OK and we just continued to build from there.”
Freshman Kaylee Byon led Rosary (11-3) with 15 points, all in the second half, to help cut a 12-point deficit in half with 1:30 remaining, but that was as close as the Royals would get.
Los Alamitos transfer Asia Avinger added seven points for Rosary, but nine missed free throws by the junior guard hurt the Royals in their comeback bid.
Dan Wiley Division:
La Jolla Country Day 48, Campbell (Georgia) 44
The Torreys (9-6) are still competing without junior point guard Te-Hina Paopao and promising freshman forward Kailyn Meyer, both sidelined with injuries, but a 16-point third quarter helped them rally from a 24-22 halftime deficit to capture the championship, their first Nike TOC title since 2011.
Jazzy Anousinh scored 14 points to earn the division’s most outstanding player honors, with Bobi Mack and Marisa Urbano-Sedlund both contributing 12 points apiece for La Jolla Country Day, which plays again Thursday in the Diamond Bracket at the Nike PIL Holiday Classic in Portland, Ore.
Mike Desper Division:
Oak Ridge (Tennessee) 66, Christian (El Cajon) 34
Simone James had 14 points and five rebounds, with Kristin Williams adding eight points for Christian (7-3), which had a four-game winning streak halted.
Khamari Mitchell-Steen and Jada Guinn both had 16 points for Oak Ridge (11-2), which led 29-14 at halftime.
Erik Boal has covered high school sports in California for 25 years, formerly serving as editor at the Glendale News-Press and Los Angeles Daily News. He is currently the editor for DyeStat.com and RunnerSpace.com, which focus on track and field, cross country and road racing, but has been a regular attendee at the Nike Tournament of Champions since its move to Arizona 20 years ago.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He also is author of “High School Football In California,” which was No. 1 on Amazon.com’s list of bestsellers in the teen/young adult football category for several weeks after it was released. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports