Posted on 11 March 2016 by La Habra Journal
By Erik Markus
La Habra Journal
It was a defensive battle for the 2016 CIF Southern Section 3AA championship between the Raiders and Lancers.
Trailing by two with seconds to play, it was the Raiders (27-4) who had a chance to unseat the defending champion Orange Lutheran Lancers (25-6). However, this game was headlined by the two defenses, and defense was the key, as the Lancers go back to back, winning 32-28. With 17.8 seconds to play, Sonora had the ball, down two. Out of a timeout, the Raiders swung the ball around into Laine James. Heavily guarded all game long, James made a move towards the basket. As she spun, she let the ball free from her grasp. The ball fell through the net, but was coupled with a whistle. The whistle signaled a traveling call. The referee waived off the tying basket as well as any contact that went with it. “I was supposed to shoot it. But they’ve played great defense the whole game, took away my shot, so I drove and then in the spin move, I guess I traveled,” James said. The Lancers collected the ball off the turnover. Taelor Griffin, who had led her team all second half, went to the free throw line. She was perfect for two free throws and a four point lead for her team. “It’s the selflessness, it’s the guts that these girls show,” Howard said about what made this team special, “Even though Tae is 1 of 18, she’s going to go get one for us and hit two big free throws to seal the game, that’s what drives us, that’s what keeps us together.”
The Raiders raced down court in need of a miracle, but this day belonged to the Lancers who successfully defended the Raiders once more.
“Too many turnovers down the stretch really did us in,” Sonora Head Coach Melissa Barajas said, “credit to Orange Lutheran’s defense. They were really tough out there and pretty physical with us and it really gave us some trouble.” The Raiders came out of halftime trailing 15-13, but made a run early in the third quarter led by Laine James, who scored seven of her nine points in the third quarter. James was able to find enough room to hit two threes despite being face guarded most of the day. “The first shot was just momentum, it was just a shot, but the second shot, they cheated on Meghann, She recognized me, and so I was open and made the shot,” James said. Just as the Raiders stood leading 22-17, the Lancers surged back. “We’ve been talking all week, we’ve been talking all game, they’re a really good team. They’re going to make plays and we have to be able to absorb that, be able to let that go and realize that great teams are going to make great plays,” Howard said. The Lancers scored 11 unanswered points from the end of the third quarter into the fourth over a near eight minute span.
“They were very physical on our cuts, and it really took us out of our game,” Barajas said.
Coming into the game, these two teams had multiple similarities. Both teams are led by strong guard play and good defense, they can both shoot, and were similarly deep and athletic. On this day, the biggest difference between these two teams was the Lancers ability to draw fouls. During the second half alone, the Lancers took 19 free throws compared to the Raiders four. “They were very physical with us and (the referees) were letting it go. We probably needed to do a better job of exploiting that and showing to the (referees),” Barajas said. The Lancers made 13 of 19 of those foul shots, which was enough to separate them from the Raiders. The Raiders only had four chances from the foul line, but two big ones went to Henderson who missed both.
However, Henderson was able to ignore her missed free throws, which allowed her to be a catalyst as the Raiders surged late in the fourth quarter.
“I honestly pretend like nothing happened. It’s hard to explain. I trick myself into thinking, ‘Oh, I didn’t miss that shot,’” Henderson said, then turning to her coach “a lot of it is mental toughness that I’ve learned, especially from her.” During the first half, the Lancers were paced by Gloria Bates, who took advantage of her size to the tune of eight first half points. Her strong post play helped mask Griffin’s early shooting woes. “It just means my team was setting me up. It might look like I’m creating everything,” Bates said, “I just really appreciate what everyone on offense, even when I catch the ball, they all move, so that when I catch the ball, all the defenders have to do things they’re not used to.” Griffin struggled in the first half, scoring just one point off a free throw, and going 0-9 from the field. “I’m missing everything, but I can rely on all my other teammates,” Griffin said. Griffin’s free throw shooting and timeliness ultimately helped her erase an ugly 2 for 19 performance. Henderson led the Raiders in a low scoring first quarter, shooting two for two. Marissa Dunn provided an early spark with a three pointer to even the score at nine early in the second quarter. Angela Rodriguez excelled at creating space inside and scoring off the dribble, which helped the Raiders break out of their scoring droughts. Seniors, Dunn and Rodriguez both scored in the fourth quarter, putting the Raiders within striking distance as their defense halted the Lancers. Dunn finished with seven points and Rodriguez finished with six. The Lancers victory gives them their third title under head coach Tom Howard. This is also the first time they have won back-to-back girls basketball championships. “This is how we win games, this is what we do. We’ve been here before, we just’ve got to continue to believe, and any one possession, and any one moment, we can make a play,” Howard said. For the Raiders, this is the first time they have played in a girls basketball CIF title game.
“Win or lose, we already made history,” Henderson said.