By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
ALHAMBRA.–For the first time in recent memory, the girls of Mark Keppel had to fight for a victory.
The Lady Aztecs were presented with their first substantial challenge of this year’s CIF Southern Section playoffs on Saturday, taking on a talented – and mostly taller – team from Camarillo High School.
The Div. 2AA quarterfinal saw the lead change hands several times until late in the fourth quarter, when Keppel guard Lauren Saiki essentially seized control of the game, scoring 10 of her 17 points in the final frame. Keppel went on to a 65-55 victory, to advance to Wednesday’s semifinal against JW North. The game is set for 7 p.m. at Keppel.
Alyson Lock had four fouls by the early part of the third period, forcing Keppel coach Joe Kikuchi to bench his top scorer for much of the quarter.
After her team was trailing 48-47 in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Saiki went on a scoring tear and was responsible for 10 of Keppel’s 17 fourth-quarter points, six coming at the free throw line.
Saiki said the situation, which included speedy guard Lesley Tan nursing a leg injury for several minutes and defensive pressure on sharp-shooting Samantha Lee, called for a little extra effort on her part.
“Aly was in foul trouble and they were guarding Sam well, so I just had to step up,” she said. “I had to do something.”
Lock scored 22 for Keppel (21-4), with Tammi Matsukiyo adding 12. Lee had nine points, all coming via the three-pointer.
Early defensive pressure kept the momentum firmly in favor of Keppel, who built a 30-21 late in the second quarter. However, Camarillo, with 5-9 sisters Geralynn and Geraldynn Leaupepe in the middle, used its size and power to claw its way back, tying the score at 43 early in the third. The two squads traded leads at least three times in the third, causing Kikuchi to break out in a somewhat unfamiliar sweat.
“It might have been a blessing,” Kikuchi said of sitting Lock for most of the third. “She game into the fourth quarter with energy, whereas I think their players may have been a little tired. It kind of worked in our favor.”
Kikuchi added that while his team may have not faced such an effective opponent for some time, he knew it would come and had prepared for it by playing some powerful non-league teams earlier in the season.
“We’ve played Etiwnanda and Santiago and Alemany, and those teams are all really tough, and that prepared us for this,” he explained. “That’s why we put through ourselves into that kind of a schedule.”
Saiki said despite the easy going before Saturday’s win, the Aztecs need to remember that any team that earns its way into the playoffs has gotten there for good reason.
“We always have to be ready. We were lucky to kind of breeze through Almont League, but we always have to be ready,” she said, adding that she’s not at all interested in bowing out of the postseason any time soon.
“I didn’t want this to be our last game, not here at home, with all of our fans cheering for us.”
In the JW North victory, Wendy Shiga and Emma Shimizu each scored 11 for Woodbridge. North won, 70-65.
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In Div. 1AA, neither Cori Okada nor Kara Ito scored, but Troy had its way with host Rancho Verde, posting a 69-26 win. The Warriors will meet Santiago in the semifinals Tuesday, with the game to be played at La Habra High School.
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Also in Div. 2A, Culver City will host Lutheran of Orange in the semis on Tuesday. The Centaurs knocked off host Moorpark on Saturday, 47-39.
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In Div. 3A, La Cañada got 16 points from Courtney Chen and three from Keilee Bessho, but the Spartans had few answers for St. Joseph in a 50-40 quarterfinal loss.
La Cañada finished at 20-9.
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In the Div. 4AA semifinals, JSerra’s Coco Miller managed 14 points against solid defense, but the Lions fell to host Serra, 48-37.
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In Div. 5AA, Flintridge Prep’s Maya Okamoto scored a team-high 10 points – including all of the Rebels’ five in the third quarter – in a lopsided 77-20 loss to Sierra Canyon.
Prep coach Kevin Kiyomura said his team performed well to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2008.
Rio Hondo Prep will play for the Div. 6 championship this weekend, after the Kares survived with a 78-74 semifinal win Friday over visiting Desert Chapel.
Junior Cody Hiroto scored 13 for Rio Hondo (20-7), who will face Trinity Classical Academy for the title. Game day and time to be announced.
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In Div. 1 A, Aliso Niguel senior Kai Sato scored six points but his Wolverines fell to visiting Santa Monica in the quarterfinals, 75-63.
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In the Div. 3A semifinals, Ocean View suffered a heartbreaker, losing 89-87 to host St. John Bosco.
Senior Nathan Kosai scored five for the Seahawks.
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In the Div. 5AA semis, Flintridge Prep got 11 points from Robert Cartwright, but Mission Prep escaped with a thrilling 60-58 win.
Down by two with 13 seconds to play, shots by Cartwright and Kyle Hamane simply missed their marks.
Hamane finished with seven points and four assists.