By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
TORRANCE.–Last Thursday began as Senior Night at Torrance High School, but it ended up as a rivalry classic.
The evening of girls’ and boys’ games was preceded by ceremonies recognizing the seniors – in a classy move, from both teams – before the action got under way.
West continued its powerhouse ways, as coach Riki Murakami’s Lady Warriors had little trouble from the outset, cruising to a 69-30 win. West capped an undefeated season in the Pioneer League, and are 22-4 overall.
Sharp ball movement and a height advantage was a major difference in the game, that saw every player on the West roster see action.
Haley Jones led all scorers with 16 points, with Piper Takenaka scoring seven and Jordy Morimoto adding five.
Morimoto, listed very generously at five feet tall, was easily the smallest player on the court, but perhaps the feistiest on defense, even blocking two shots.
“Today wasn’t really a good shooting day for me. Usually I have a better eye on the three-pointers,” Morimoto said after the game. “Even though I didn’t score much, we won, so I have to say this is a good night.”
Murakami said the team will focus on the CIF playoffs that begin this week, working on any areas of weakness she recognizes.
“The main thing for us is to treat every game the same,” she explained. “We have to go out and do the things we know we do well, and we’ll break down our offensive and defensive sets, to see how to improve.”
While West awaited Sunday’s CIF pairings, Torrance saw its 11-13 season come to en end.
Senior Abby Yamamoto scored four points in her final prep game, and had a chance to reflect on her high school career afterward.
“This is really a bittersweet moment,” Yamamoto said in between hugs from fans and classmates. “For four years, we all worked so hard, and I think I’ve grown a lot as a person. I think it’s the closeness with my teammates that I’ll miss the most.”
Koko Morofuji scored seven and Nicole Sakasegawa had five for the Tartars.
If the girls’ game was a bit of a competitive let-down, the boys more than made up for it in the nightcap.
Before a boisterous – and thunderingly loud – capacity crowd, the contest came down the the final second … twice.
Down by two points and dashing to a corner, Ken Asai’s three-pointer fell short and Torrance escaped with a thrilling 51-49 victory.
Asai led all scorers with 24 points, including a buzzer-beater at the half that made the score 22-21 in favor of Torrance.
The entire game was a battle, with the lead changing hands countless times.
The final four-plus minutes saw the home team claw back from a five-point deficit, on a three-pointer by Tyler Morimoto and a dunk from Abdul Ahmad.
After trading baskets for the next few minutes, West found itself down by two in the last 22 seconds. A defensive stop by Torrance gobbled up nearly all the remaining time on the clock and West was forced to foul.
The Warriors, however, had fouls to give and had one last shot, an inbound pass that was nearly intercepted, but found the hands of Asai, who put up the desperation heave.
After the shot missed, the Torrance student section rushed onto the court, not realizing a foul had been called and that 1.9 seconds remained.
After several minutes of clearing the court, the game resumed and again, time expired and the on-court celebration was repeated.
“We’re glad to be healthy, and we’re playing well now,” Torrance head coach Paul Nitake said afterwards.
Torrance began the season with six straight losses, but turned the ship around and swept their games with the other Torrance schools, along with winning 16 of their last 21.
“Once we all got healthy and the chemistry started to develop. That’s when this became fun again,” Nitake said.
Morimoto had nine points with eight rebounds, and said his team would enjoy the night’s victory, but then focus on CIF.
“We’ll celebrate this tonight, but come tomorrow, it’s back to focusing and back to work,” he said.
• • •
In other action Thursday, Samantha Inana connected for the game-winning shot with two seconds to play, and Peninsula’s girls toppled rival Palos Verdes, 63-61.
Inana finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three steals, while teammate Kristin Hanaoka had 21 points, four assists and four steals. Jenna Yamada netted 19 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and three steals.
• • •
Kelli Toyooka scored 14 points, but Mira Costa saw Redondo wrap up the Bay League title with a 62-32 win.
• • •
Last Tuesday, Glendale proved again the importance of sinking free throws, as they won at Arcadia, 37-35.
Jill Yanai scored 15 points, the most important ones coming via the free-throw line with eights seconds remaining. After her shots, Arcadia scored a three-pointer from Annie Tran that would have tied the game, had Yanai not converted.
“I don’t think anything when I’m at the line,” Yanai said, waiving off the pressure. “It’s when I start thinking that I miss.”
Clarissa Kiyomura had 10 points for Arcadia and Courtney Hayata added six.