June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Crean Lutheran celebrates outright league title with victory over Cypress

Crean Lutheran players and coaches celebrate the league title Tuesday night. (Photos courtesy Crean Lutheran Shutterbugs, John Luciano and Howard Lyon).

Co-head coach Bianca Ziemann honored after the game for 100 victories.

Time after time, Crean Lutheran High School’s girls basketball team met the challenge Tuesday night against Cypress.

The Saints, cheered on by a big home crowd, turned back numerous runs by the Centurions to capture a 57-47 victory to clinch the outright Empire League title with one game left in the final season of the league.

Crean Lutheran was led by junior Sydnee Norwood, who scored 26 points, including eight in the final quarter. Jane Hewitt and Madison Nguyen added seven points each for the Saints.

To see the slide show, click on the first photo:

Cypress (14-12, 6-3), headed to the CIF playoffs as most likely the second place team from the league, battled from the start to finish and was led by Sara Shigekawa (19 points, four 3-pointers) and Lauryn Nakamura (18 points).

But in the end, Crean Lutheran (17-6, 9-0) celebrated the league title, the Saints first since the 2021-22 season, then honored co-head coach Bianca Ziemann for her 100th victory in five years with the program. She was joined by co-head coach Rachael Ziemann, her sister in the ceremony on the court.

“It’s so hard to win any kind of title,” Bianca Ziemann said.”It’s a shame that our Empire League is dissolving because there is a lot of competitiveness with every team. But I’m so proud of our girls.”

Ziemann said it was the most challenging year with the most adversity because of injuries and illness which left the Saints short-handed and missing two and at times, three starters.

“It’s such a young team, it does affect them,” she said. “But they never gave up, and finally we started regaining flow and we knew going into tonight’s game that Cypress was well coached, with great kids, but our girls made the right plays at the right time and got the right stops at the right time. And it’s all them, I am proud of them.”

Crean Lutheran led 27-24 at halftime and then extended its lead to 35-24 with an 8-0 run to start the third quarter. The Saints held a 44-37 lead after three quarters.

But Cypress continued to battle and cut the lead to 49-43 on a 3-pointer by Shigekawa with 5:14 remaining.

However, the Saints regained control and finished out strong.

“At the end of the day we have to do what’s right defensively and offensively and I believe we handled those momentum shifts,” Ziemann said.

“I think we pulled it together at the end,” added Norwood, the game’s high scorer. “We were really sped up at the beginning, but then we slowed down and we got into our offense and were able to hit our shots that we weren’t making in the first half.”

Norwood said the players knew that their coach would be honored for her 100th victory if the Saints won. It was kept a surprise to Coach Ziemann.

“We had a little bit of pressure going into this because our whole team knew that if we won, it would be her 100th win, so we just had to channel the pressure into good energy and we pulled it out, so it was good,” Norwood said.

Bianca Ziemann was all smiles in the ceremony, thanking her players and supporters of the program.

She said in an interview she was not aware of the milestone and had no idea a celebration would be held.

“I was shocked, in fact I kind of feel a little bit weird, I want it to be all about the girls, even though we clinched the sharing of it at the Valencia game, I have to give it all to them, and my staff, they work so hard, it’s not about me, it’s all about them. What’s sweeter is that all the girls’ hard work is continuing to pay off,” she said.

“Our team came in and did what needed to be done to win the game.”

Both teams wrap up league play Thursday night before getting ready for the CIF playoffs. Crean Lutheran plays at Tustin while Cypress hosts Pacifica. Both games are at 6:15 p.m.

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com