May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Pacifica Christian battles back but falls to Louisville 57-49 in CIF title game

Pacifica Christian players are cheered on by their fans after Thursday’s game. (Photos Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone)

Despite a valiant comeback in the second half, the Pacifica Christian High girls basketball team came up short on Thursday night and fell to Woodland Hills Louisville 57-49 in the championship game of the CIF Division 5A division at Pacifica Christian High.

Taylor Westbrook scored 22 points and Katherine Csiszar added 14 points as the Royals (10-3) notched their first CIF basketball championship in school’s history. Lauryn Ham scored 15 points and Annika Jiwani added 11 points for Pacifica Christian (15-4).

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Trailing 27-20 at halftime, No. 2 seeded Pacifica Christian came out on fire in the third quarter and erased the deficit and took its first lead of the game.

Sophomore guard Charis Wondercheck (who finished with nine points) completed a 3-point play in the first minute of the quarter and then laid in another basket after taking a pinpoint pass from Jiwani, who forced a Louisville turnover. Moments later, Jiwani converted three free throws to give the Tritons its only lead of the game at 28-27 with 6:17 left in the third quarter.

However, the No.1 seeded Royals countered and went on a 15-2 run, led by Westbrook, Csiszar and Miye Kodama, over the final 5:34 of the quarter to take a commanding 42-30 lead after three periods. 

“We knew they were going to make their runs, but we kept our poise and composure,” said Louisville coach Monica Hernandez. “We knew if we did that, we would be OK.”

Pacifica Christian, on the strength of consecutive baskets by Nola Mihaly-Garvin, Wondercheck and Ham cut the lead to 42-26 with 7:05 to play, but the Royals countered a second time with a 10-2 run capped off by a Westbrook basket to increase the Louisville lead to 52-38 with 4:15 left.

The Tritons were able to cut the lead to 52-45 after a Jiwani basket, but Louisville was able to withstand Pacifica Christian’s final push and secured the victory.

“Their press was a challenge for us,” said Pacifica Christian Coach James Parker said. “We didn’t have a lot practice time to work on the press. We didn’t do a good job on their Alyssa Saldana and she was able to penetrate and we couldn’t stop her. They got too many easy layups.”

The Tritons came out of the gate slow in the first quarter and struggled against Louisville’s zone defense. Pacifica Christian didn’t score its first points until midway through the opening quarter. The Royals took advantage and built a 14-5 lead after eight minutes of play.

Ham and Jiwani began hitting their shots in the second quarter and outstanding hustle by Anna Eddy and Hailey Mackay led Pacifica Christian back into the game. Trailing by as many as 10 points, the Tritons cut the lead in half three times in the quarter before settling for a 27-20 deficit at the break.

“We play with so much chemistry and communication on this team,” Mihaly-Garvin said. “We fought hard but I think we hurt ourselves by getting off to a slow start.”

“I think what we’ll learn from this game is that we have to start off better and pick the pace earlier in the game,” Jiwani said. “We started slow tonight and it took us awhile to pick it back up.”

Parker was impressed with his team’s efforts.

“Nola and Anna gave us a tremendous amount of energy that sparked our comeback,” said Parker. “They’re our passion players. They dive after loose balls, get steals and rebounds.”

“I’m proud of the girls,” said Eddy. “Our team played tough and we take pride in that. We had a great season and as a senior I’ll looked back at our team with great pride.”

Pacifica Christian, seeded No. 2, captured the Academy League title this season. The Tritons defeated San Gabriel Academy and St. Bernard’s in the playoffs.

“We worked so hard all summer long and we came together as a team,” said Ham. “We’ll use this game and build for the future and we’ll continue to grind it out and push ourselves.”

Louisville has won eight of its last nine games, including recording double digit victories in the playoffs over Valley Christian Academy, Century and Capsitrano Valley Christian. The Royals average victory this season has been by 30 points. 

“It’s so amazing to win a championship,” said Csiscar. “We slowed down our game and got our rhythm back in the second half. We’re a young team and I can’t wait to come back next year and kick butt.”

Both teams are headed to the Southern California Regionals beginning Tuesday night.

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—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone