By DEVIN MITCHELL and CARLTON LEW
Special to the Rafu
Kelsey Lee scored a game-high 24 points and Candace Chen blocked nine shots as South Pasadena defeated arch-rival San Marino, 51-46, in a physical game Thursday night at the South Pas gym.
The Tigers have already clinched a CIF berth, finishing second in league with a 6-4 record. They will learn who they will play on Sunday, according to head coach Ralph Punaro. San Marino finished fourth in league play and will have to apply for an at-large bid in hopes of a chance to go to CIF.
Lee led her team through a brutal San Marino defense that sent her to the ground nearly every time she drove into the paint. While she was just 2-19 from the field, Lee was able to get to the free throw line 21 times, making all but one.
“It was all for the team, I played through it,” Lee said. Despite the tough shooting game, she sank two free throws at the end of the game to seal the deal. “It was hard today to shoot from outside, but I got lucky [going to the free throw line].”
“If Kelsey and Candace didn’t have the games that they had, the outcome would be different,” said Punaro.
Leigh Kunitake led San Marino with 19 points, including two three-pointers that helped keep San Marino in the game late. The Titans had five three-pointers to South Pasadena’s one and outscored the Tigers from the field 17-12.
But it didn’t matter, as the Tigers won it at the charity stripe, taking advantage of 33 free throw attempts to knock down 28. By comparison, San Marino made 7 of only 10 shots from the free throw line.
The Tigers led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, but the Titans quickly bounced back to tie the game at 22 with 1:22 remaining in the second frame. Heading into the locker room, the Tigers had a slight lead at 26-22. San Marino briefly took a 27-26 advantage midway through the third quarter, but this was the last time they would be ahead. Still, the outcome was largely up in the air until Lee sank the decisive two free throws that put the Tigers up by five with 3.5 seconds left.
The turning point of the contest arguably came three minutes prior when Candace Chen blocked three shots on one possession, firing up the capacity crowd. “That was the best game of her four year career,” Punaro said.
“It was a tough game, but we kept our composure even when it was close,” said Kelsey Nakamura. She finished the night with four rebounds and six points, including a clutch jump shot that gave the Tigers momentum going into the half. Nakamura’s sister, Katie, had nine points and led the team with eleven rebounds, five of them on the offensive side.
The game was summed up aptly by senior Lindsey Kuramoto who said, “San Marino hustled today, but we hustled harder.”