After two failed attempts, Serra High's girls' basketball team from Gardena finally punched their ticket to Saturday's California State Division IV Championships after topping Del Rey League rival Playa del Rey St. Bernard, 63-54, for its first ever Southern California Division IV title last Saturday at Colony High in Ontario.
It was the Lady Cavaliers' third appearance in the regional finals but they fell two years ago in the Division III championship to Santa Maria St. Joseph, 54-45, and last year to La Jolla Country Day, 46-36. La Jolla Country Day, the CIF-San Diego Section Division IV champion, along with Mar Vista Windward, which defeated Serra 85-57 for the CIF-Southern Section Division IVAA crown on Feb. 27 at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena, moved up to the prestigious Open Division. Windward, in fact, is in the state final against Northern California champion Berkeley on Saturday. The Wildcats were able to top always powerful Santa Ana Mater Dei for the regional title Saturday at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario.
The Cavaliers will take on Salesian High from Richmond, the Northern California Division IV champion, for their first state title and the second ever for Serra High girls' sports (The Cavaliers' girls' track and field team won the state crown in June in Clovis.) Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Richmond Salesian is making its second straight state Division IV final appearance. Last year, it lost to La Jolla Country Day, 71-41.
Salesian, meanwhile, made the state final after topping Piedmont, 53-43, last Saturday in Sacramento.
A fast start and finish highlighted Serra's regional championship win over St. Bernard, which tied the Cavaliers for the Del Rey League title as each team split their two league games.
The Lady Cavaliers (29-5) started out with a 13-1 lead with about four minutes into the first quarter, but the Vikings inched in.
Serra discovered itself ahead by just one point (49-48) early in the fourth period behind a basket by Chanelle Pelle and a free throw from Cydney Bolton, but University of Oregon-bound senior Deandrea Toler started the Cavaliers' 11-0 run with a basket.
Perhaps the knockout punch came when on Caila Hailey's three-point basket that raised Serra's lead to 56-48. The Cavaliers completed the run with a 12-point lead (60-48) with 1:04 left in the contest on two free throws by Tatiana Howard.
"The girls were so hyped," Serra head coach McKenzie Hadley said. "Their energy level was high. We set the tone early, then St. Bernard made a great comeback. We wanted to keep the pressure. In the fourth quarter, we wore them down."
The Cavaliers were led by University of Michigan-bound senior Siera Thompson with a game-high 24 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Hailey added 13 points and Toler contributed 12 points and five assists. Tatiana Howard, who will be playing at University of Seattle next season, had eight points and 13 rebounds.
Pelle and Lajaahna Drummer led St. Bernard (28-4) with 13 points, apiece. Demoria White had 11 points and five assists. Pelle also gathered 14 rebounds. Michelle Curry tallied five points and 12 rebounds. Drummer pulled down 12 rebounds.
Redondo tops J.W. North: After a dismal 10-17 2011-12 season and a 7-8 record with a rugged preseason schedule, many Redondo High boys' basketball players and fans expected the Sea Hawks to improve some but did not expect them to go this far in the playoffs.
Redondo (27-8) picked up its 20th consecutive victory and will make the California State Division II championship game for the first time in its program's more than 100-year history after defeating top seed J.W. North High from Riverside, 60-48, in the Southern California Regional Division II final last Saturday at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario.
The Sea Hawks had a very good game plan and, as usual, played a very stingy defense against a team that recorded mostly blowout wins in postseason play, including 80-55 in the Southern Section semifinals against Manhattan Beach Mira Costa on Feb. 26 at North and a 61-23 home win in the regional quarterfinals over Central Section Division II champion Hanford West on March 9.
Redondo raced out to a 15-6 first quarter lead, behind the shooting of guards, senior Derek Biale and junior Ian Fox, who scored all of their points in that period.
The Sea Hawks led all of the way from there.
Biale led Redondo with 15 points, all on five three-point baskets. He also had three steals. Senior forward Chris Henderson added 12 points and four rebounds. Fox contributed 10 points, eight assists and two steals. Freshman guard Leland Green came off the bench and chipped in eight points. Sophomore Jeremiah Headley had six points, six rebounds and three steals.
All of these were against a taller team that included 6-foot-8 center Adrian Hughes and three other players at 6-6.
Deshon Taylor led the Huskies (31-4) with 11 points, followed by 6-foot-6 senior forward Dorian Butler with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Sea Hawks will take on another team that was not expected to go this far in the playoffs in College Park from Pleasant Hill, the Northern California Division II champion which surprised top seed Dublin in a wild 93-90 overtime victory. College Park, a runner-up in the CIF-Central Coast Section Division II playoffs, came into the regional playoffs as the seventh seed. Sources are that College Park has some excellent three-point shooting guards, just like Redondo with Biale and Fox. The game will be Saturday at 4 p.m. at Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena.
If Redondo defeats College Park, it will be the Sea Hawks' first basketball state crown and the state championship for any team sport since their boys' track and field team won the school's only one in 1946.
Knights fall to Pacific Hills: Off to an inspiring 29-0 start, Bishop Montgomery High's boys' basketball team was seeking to win the California state championship or, maybe, even play in the prestigious Open Division, led by eventual Southern California champion Santa Ana Mater Dei, CIF-Southern Section Division IAA champion Etiwanda, Long Beach Poly and CIF-Los Angeles City Division I champion Westchester.
Bishop Montgomery failed to win the Southern Section Division IVAA title as it was knocked out in the semifinals by La Verne Lutheran, 63-59, on Feb. 22 at home.
The Knights were hoping to redeem themselves by pulling off the Southern California Regional and California State Division IV championships.
Unfortunately, Bishop Montgomery's efforts failed as it lost in the final to West Hollywood Pacific Hills, 73-69, last Saturday at Colony High in Ontario.
The Bruins, who improved to 28-4, raced out to a 44-29 lead early in the third quarter.
The Knights rallied and got as close as three points at 72-69 on Justin Bibbins' two free throws.
Bishop Montgomery had a chance as it forced a turnover. Larry Taylor passed theball but it was intercepted by junior guard Namon Wright. Wright was fouled and he converted on one of two free throws to put the game, the title and a berth in the State Division IV final against Cardinal Newman from Santa Rosa away.
Lamond Murray led the Knights, who finished their season at 32-2, with a game-high 25 points. Taylor chipped in 14 points, all in the second half.
Doing the most damage for Pacific Hills were guards, senior Jahmel Taylor and Wright, who had 24 and 20 points, in order. Taylor also had 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Another local team in the state final is Santa Monica, which captured the Southern California Regional Division I crown by edging Loyola, 53-50, Saturday at the Citizens Bank Arena.
The Vikings will face Northern California champion Peasant Hill for their first state title since 1928 in the final Friday at 8 p.m. at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Southern California Regional Basketball Championship in Ontario:
Saturday, March 16:
Division II: Redondo 60, J.W. North 48.
Division IV: Pacific Hills 73, Bishop Montgomery 69.
Division IV: Serra 63, St. Bernard 54.
California State Basketball Championships at Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento:
Saturday, March 23:
Division II: Redondo vs. College Park, 4 p.m.
Division IV: Serra vs. Richmond Salesian, 10 a.m.