Sports

Lady Heralds shut down Ontario Christian to claim Knight Time Classic title

WClogoby Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

ONTARIO – The Whittier Christian girls’ basketball team continued to show no signs of struggle with its coaching transition and pressured its way to the OC Knight Time Classic Championship with a 42-23 win over host Ontario Christian, Monday night at Ontario Christian High.

After nearly giving up an early lead in the second quarter, the Lady Heralds’ full court pressure defense allowed just four points in the second half, while forcing the Lady Knights into 15 turnovers.

“We just wanted to maintain our turnovers, while looking to get stops and contain them,” said Sydney Lopez, senior captain. “We knew we needed to establish our offense early on. It was hard coming [into the tournament] with a new coach, but we’re running the same plays, so that made it a little easier.”

Lopez led the Lady Heralds with 15 points and Hannah Yoshihara added 10 points. Megan Kleber led Whittier Christian with eight rebounds, half of which came at the offensive end.

On the defensive side, Priscilla Zamorano recorded six steals, while Lopez added four steals and seven rebounds.

But the key for the Lady Heralds throughout the OC Knight Time Classic has been in its quick starts, and Monday night’s championship tilt was no different.

Lopez scored eight points in the opening quarter and Kleber turned two offensive rebounds into four points in leading Whittier Christian (7-5) to an early 17-6 lead.

“That was important, because we struggle sometimes when we play from behind,” Lopez said. “We knew we needed an early lead.”

However, the game slowed down for Whittier Christian in the second quarter when problems with ball-control arose, leading to nine turnovers.

Yoshihara bailed out her team with five big points, but the Lady Knights responded with Anna Spykstra, who led the team with five points of her own in the quarter.

Ontario Christian’s Amanda McGuire pushed in two baskets in the paint as the Lady Knights (7-3) shrunk Whittier Christian’s lead to 24-19 at the break.

Both teams struggled to get going after the break until Yoshihara hit a 3-pointer over four minutes into the third quarter.

“We were making really bad passes, trying to force the ball into areas where we weren’t open,” said Grace Ricafranca, Lady Heralds’ head coach. “I think once we picked it up and made better passes, we did a much better job moving and swinging the ball. We’ve been trying to incorporate some newer offenses, which could be a reason for those turnovers.”

That basket energized the Lady Heralds as Yoshihara followed with a jumper and Tyler Gibson added a layup to stretch the lead to 32-20.

Lopez kept pace in the paint during the fourth quarter and the Lady Heralds’ defensive pressure allowed just one field goal to Spykstra in the entire second half.

Spykstra led the Lady Knights with nine points, while McGuire added six first-half points.

“What we did in the second half was go to more of a man defense because we thought we matched up well,” said Grace Ricafranca, Lady Heralds’ head coach. “It worked out to our favor, all I wanted was to make sure we weren’t fouling. We wanted a clean game and we wanted to force turnovers.”

Guards Zamorano and Yoshihara were named to the All-Tournament team and Lopez was given the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.

The Lady Heralds are 7-5 overall, but 4-0 under the direction of Ricafranca, who believes that the credit should still go to previous coach Richard Villeza.

“There definitely was a hope,” Ricafranca said of becoming tournament champions to start her varsity coaching career. “It really became a reality after our second game against Gabrielino, after that game it felt like we were on the same page. As my first time as head coach, I’m elated, but these girls would not be here without the hard work and time that Coach Richard put into them, I have to give him the credit here. I just did my best and these girls put in the hard work.”

The Lady Heralds will continue their nonleague schedule with a road game against La Serna, Saturday at 6 p.m.

PHOTO COMING SOON!

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.