May 28, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Crean Lutheran fights off Laguna Hills’ upset bid to win 64-60 and advance to semis

Crean Lutheran players and coaches react as the Saints rally in the second half. (Photo courtesy Crean Lutheran Shutterbugs, John Luciano, For OC Sports Zone)

Crean Lutheran’s girls basketball team is headed to the CIF Division 3AA semifinals after winning a dramatic and highly entertaining quarterfinal round playoff game Wednesday night.

It definitely wasn’t easy for the Saints, who had to battle back from a 17-point deficit in the first half and 10-point halftime deficit to defeat an upset-minded Laguna Hills team 64-60 in front of a big crowd at Crean Lutheran. An extra set of small bleachers were brought in and placed at one end of the gymnasium.

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

Third-seeded Crean Lutheran will face No. 2 seeded Mira Costa Saturday night in the semifinals.

Shannon O’Malley led Crean Lutheran’s second half surge, hitting eight 3-pointers, four in the fourth quarter. O’Malley scored 31 points and Taylor Feldman 17 points to lead the Saints.

Laguna Hills was without its starting point guard Lina Chang, who suffered a sprained ankle this week but the Hawks fought their hearts out trying to make up for her absence. She is also an outstanding defensive player.

“I knew they were going to come out even stronger,” said Crean Lutheran Coach Bianca Ziemann. “And I have to hand it to them. Those girls were tough, they never gave up. On the flip end, we didn’t give up.

“I’m just proud of our girls, Shannon O’Malley played phenomenal for us tonight. She found a rhythm and because of that, we created that gap and we never looked back.”

With Chang out, Maddy Riddle took over the point guard duties for Laguna Hills and scored nine points.

“Considering that Maddy had to learn point guard in one day in practice, she did an incredible job,” said Laguna Hills Coach Jim Martin. “And considering we couldn’t go deep, I’m really proud of the effort.”

Kayla Chang led Laguna Hills with 34 points.

“She’s had a lot of those,” Martin said. “We knew she had to have one to stay in the game.”

Cierra Arlow added eight points for Laguna Hills (19-9).

Laguna Hills, with a strong defensive effort, looked on its way to an upset after taking a 30-20 halftime lead. But Crean Lutheran regrouped at the break.

“We did a prayer,” Ziemann said. “I said to them, ‘we have a lot of anxiety right now. We need to take a deep breath. It’s not that they’re taking away our shots, we’re not hitting them.’ So I think that built the confidence and we’ve been in situations….Bishop Amat, Santa Fe, Cypress, Tustin, we’ve built a rapport that we know how to come back and win and that took our supporting cast, not just Shannon O’Malley but everyone. We refocused, dialed in and coach and I made some adjustments.”

Crean Lutheran (26-4) went on an 11-2 run at the start of the third quarter to turn the momentum of the game. Laguna Hills led 37-36 after three quarters. The fourth quarter remained close until the Saints moved out to a 55-51 lead with 59 seconds left on a 3-pointer by O’Malley.

“It was really a team effort,” said O’Malley. “We really came together. We were down by a lot and we really just d’d up and boxed out a lot and tried to and deny the post. I was just feeling it and my team looked for me and it worked. Taylor has a great drive and she’s so good at seeing the whole court.”

Now, the Saints return to the semifinals for the second year in a row. Last season, Crean Lutheran lost to Santa Fe 64-48 in the semifinals of the 4A division.

“I’m so excited, we’re going to play for that ring,” O’Malley said.

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