Lady Heralds shut down league rival, secure their spot in the playoffs
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Despite a second consecutive off-night shooting wise, the Whittier Christian girls’ basketball team relied on defense and didn’t show signs of fatigue in defeating Valley Christian 23-21 to claim the No. 3 seed in the Olympic League, Friday night at Valley Christian High.
The Lady Heralds battled their Olympic League rivals less than 24 hours after suffering a tough loss at home to Village Christian, which forced a three-way tie for second place in league.
Valley Christian, on the other hand, had three days between games with a Bye on Thursday after defeating Heritage Christian on the road, Tuesday.
Team defense was the key as Whittier Christian focused on filling the gaps and throwing off the Lady Crusaders by switching from zone to man defenses.
That gameplan allowed just one point to Valley Christian in the second and third quarters combined, which gave Whittier Christian a 17-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“Today was a big mental game for us, we had to stay tough and prepare ourselves on the way over,” said Tammy Adereti, who was assigned to defend against the Lady Crusaders’ top two scorers. “We work on defense a lot in practice. Our coach tells us, ‘Never let your man beat you,’ so that’s always the mindset we go out with.”
While Whittier Christian’s defense was causing fits for the Lady Crusaders, the offense wasn’t overpowering as the Lady Heralds hit just over 24 percent of their shots from the floor.
Sydney Lopez led the way with 12 points and 10 rebounds and again came through for the Lady Heralds in the second half with eight points and seven rebounds.
“Sydney is the backbone of this team, offensively she looks for her shots and we need her to score in order to win games,” said Grace Ricafranca, Whittier Christian head coach. “She delivers every time, under pressure, when we need her the most. She’s one of the top offensive players in this league and she proved that again tonight.”
Defensively, the Lady Heralds altered shots throughout the matchup until the final two minutes of the game.
Leading 23-13, Whittier Christian allowed a pair of 3-pointers to Makenna Mageo and Hailey Garcia, along with a pair of free throws by Amber Binford, but time simply ran out as Mageo’s 3-pointer left just five seconds on the clock.
“Our head coach, Grace, is really good about keeping us calm, she always reminds us that we have the lead and to take it slow,” Adereti said. “We just remembered to listen to her and keep our mind straight and it worked out for us.”
Both teams had fairly quick starts in the first quarter. After Valley Christian jumped to an 8-2 lead, Tyler Gibson made a pair of driving layups and made the ensuing free throw on one of them to cut the lead to 8-7 at the end of the quarter.
Despite only scoring four points in the second quarter, Whittier Christian held the Lady Crusaders scoreless and led 11-8 at the half.
In a developing trend, the Lady Heralds were at their best in the third quarter, as the defense held Valley Christian to just one free throw, while Lopez got going with a driving layup and a put-back while Adereti knocked down a big shot to extend the lead to eight points heading into the final quarter.
“In the first quarter, we took a little while to get into it, but later during the course of the game, I thought we did a great job of rotating,” Ricafranca said. “They adjust really well, the third has always been our strongest quarter, the girls just happen to wake up at that time and it’s better late than never. We snap into it and just start playing aggressive.”
Both teams played without key starters. Valley Christian (11-16, 4-5) was without starting forward Kate Vande Vegte, while Whittier Christian (14-11, 5-4) was without guard Priscilla Zamorano, who suffered a knee injury the previous night against Village Christian.
Binford scored six of her eight points in the first quarter to lead Valley Christian. Garcia scored all of her six points in the second half.
Valley Christian forward Amanda Chamberlain brought down eight rebounds, but was held to four points.
With the win, Whittier Christian claims the third and final guaranteed playoff spot out of the Olympic League.
The team will most likely be on the road in the first round, but will find out its first round opponent on Sunday when the CIF-SS releases the Division 4A playoff bracket.
“I don’t know how many more adversities we’ll have to face before our season comes to an end, but if there’s anything I’ve learned about this team it’s that they never give up,” Ricafranca said. “They’re always willing to put up a good fight and they enjoy the thrill and the adventure maybe a little too much, but they’re able to rise to the occasion and they do a great job under pressure.”