The home crowd waited in anticipation, counting down the clock, 5…4…3… Lakeside was in this exact spot last year – at home playing a semifinals game for a chance to play for the Division 3AA CIF title – only this year, they won! As the buzzer sounded, the crowd of students, family and fans rushed the floor in a roar of sound that filled the rafters of the gym.
The Lakeside Lady Lancers (22-6, 10-0) had defeated the Corona del Mar (CdM) Sea Kings (21-8, 6-4) 57-37 and gave Coach Anthony Williams his 200th high school basketball victory and a spot in the Championship Game, the first in Lakeside’s nine-year history! Williams has been at Lakeside since 2008; he coached previously at Jurupa. “The girls worked hard and deserve this win,” shouted Williams over the noise.
The Lancers faced a CdM front line that was 6’3”, 6’2” and 5’10”. “We were undersized,” said Williams, “but the girls played huge, they played with a lot of heart tonight! Heart — that’s what got us here.”
Victoria Sosa, a 5’7” Lakeside forward, pulled down nine rebounds in the first quarter alone, not allowing either of the CdM “bigs” to get to the boards. “They were really tough,” said Sosa who ended the night with fifteen rebounds.
CdM had a 6-2 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter, but Lakeside went on a 15-0 run over the next eight minutes behind aggressive defense and team hustle to lead 17-6. CdM’s 8-4 run made the halftime score 21-14.
The Lancers had outrebounded the Sea Kings 27 to 15 in the first half and committed only two turnovers to six for their opponent. “Rebounds and turnovers were a big key,” said Corona del Mar coach Mark Decker, “That’s an experienced team and they did a good job packing it in.” Lakeside ended the night with 40 rebounds.
CdM came out strong the second half with forward Natalia Bruening scoring seven of her game high 19 points to lead her team on a 13-6 run to tie the game at 27 with a free throw. Lakeside guard Tavian Lasley hit one of her three three’s just before the end of the quarter to give the lead back to the Lancers.
In the final period, Lakeside started with a 9-0 run to open up an eleven-point lead, but CdM scored on an inbounds play and point guard Kelly Tam hit her second three to bring her team within six points. Lakeside scored the next nine points to open up a comfortable fifteen point lead with 2:45 left to play. Freshman post Emma Meriwether scored three times in the final two minutes to stretch the Lady Lancers’ lead; she had eight in the quarter. Lakeside outscored CdM 27-10 in the final period. “This was my best game ever!” said the 6’3″ Meriwether, who had not played basketball before this season.
“They [CdM] were tough,” said Crawley, “but we all worked together as a team to get the win.”
Soph guard Lasley led the Lakeside team with 13 points, including three buckets from beyond the arc. Crawley added 12. Meriwether, Sosa and Marissa Williams each contributed eight points. Kianna Williams and Megan Wood added four apiece. Marissa Williams also led in assists with ten.
“They were really quick and had some good guards who could penetrate,” said Bruening about the Lakeside team, “they did a really good job on the offense and were able to produce.” In addition to her 19 points, Bruening pulled down 12 rebounds.
This is the deepest into playoffs the Sea Kings have been in Decker’s eight years; last year they were eliminated in the second round. CdM won a CIF title in 1983. They graduate three seniors from this year’s team. “We’ll be back here,” said Bruening who is only a sophomore.
The #2 Lakeside team advances to the Championship round to play top-seeded Santa Barbara (25-5, 6-2) who beat Yorba Linda 48-41. The Lady Dons are led by 5’9” sophomore power forward Amber Melgoza who scored forty of her team’s 58 points in the quarterfinals game against Irvine. Melgoza averages 21.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game; she has scored thirty or more points three times this season.
The Division 3AA CIF Southern Section-Ford Girls Basketball Championship game will be played March 7th or 8th at the Felix Events Center at Azusa Pacific University.