By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
SAN GABRIEL.–Lindsay Uyematsu came to the gymnasium at San Gabriel High battered, banged-up and unsure if she’d be able to play much on Saturday night. The Canyon of Anaheim sophomore had both ankles wrapped in support braces, her left elbow was badly bruised and she had three jammed fingers immobilized on her shooting hand.
Given her condition, it’s hardly a surprise that Uyematsu took all of two shots–both missing–in the CIF Southern Section Div. 2A semifinal against Mark Keppel. It wasn’t her shooting, however, that may have saved the game, which Canyon won, 53-48, to advance to next weekend’s CIF title game against Harvard-Westlake.
Having led for three quarters, Keppel began to unravel in the fourth. Their pressure defense, which had worked wonders all season, was solved by the taller, stronger Canyon players and to make matters worse, the Lady Aztecs lost their shooting touch. At the same time, the Comanches, after shooting poorly from the free throw line and being forced into several turnovers in the first half, suddenly got their game together and began to play solid ball.
Keppel, however, wasn’t going to roll over that easily. After giving up the lead, Aztec sophomore Alyson Lock found new fire, banging her way inside to score a pair of key baskets that brought her team to within two points with under a minute and a half to play. That is when Uyematsu may have saved the day for Canyon.
Any coach will tell you that momentum is priceless, especially in a playoff game, and Keppel, surging back, had seized it. Their 3-to-1 trap began to work again and the Aztecs forced a bad pass from Canyon that sent the ball bouncing out of bounds…almost.
In what may be the play of her career thus far, Uyematsu leaped off one leg to grab the ball mid-air over the boundary, then found an open teammate to receive her pass, all before she crashed into the padded wall. The save prevented a turnover, resulted in a Canyon basket and effectively snuffed out the Keppel comeback before they could tie the score.
“I just ran after it as hard as I could,” Uyematsu said. “I’m just glad I was able to get it to someone once I had my hand on it.”
Keppel head coach Hon Trieu knew his team faced a formidable challenge against Canyon, whose lineup featured five players over 5-foot-9. Some of his usually dependable outside shooters, including seniors Brittani Hirose and Bryttne Nakamura never seemed to find a groove, so he went to his bench for unseasoned players such as Samantha Lee, who was brought up from junior Varsity for the playoffs and hit a pair of three -pointers on Saturday.
“We’re a young team, and we just ran into a bigger, taller, more talented team,” Trieu said after the loss. “We weren’t as prepared for them as they were for us.
“They’re a good team and good teams don’t get rattled easily. We’re learning, we’re young and we got rattled, and that hurt us.”
Despite her team losing their composure, Nakamura gave credit to Canyon for staying focused after trailing for most of the game.
“They’re a pretty good team. I’m surprised they hung in there and stayed close for that long,” she said. “When they started scoring and we started messing up, it just started rolling for them and we never caught back up.”
Lock had a game-high 16 points, while Christina Salvatore led Canyon with 15.
The loss is especially stinging for Keppel, who advanced past the quarterfinals for the first time in school history. There is still a chance that they will be awarded a berth in the State tournament, but that decision is pending.
In the other Div. 2A semifinal, Cheryl Ikegami and Skylar Tsutsui advanced to face Uyematsu and Canyon, after No. 1 seed Harvard-Westlake won going away, 66-43 over Indio.
In the Div. 5A semifinal played at Providence High in Burbank, the Polytechnic Panthers continued their march through the playoffs, brushing aside Holy Martyrs for a 53-27 win.
Junior guard Michelle Miller scored as many points as the entire Holy Martyrs team, as Poly earned their first championship berth since 1995.
“We know this year is our chance to win a banner,” said Miller, the top scorer in California. “This is really our shot because next year, we’re probably going to be moved up a division.”