By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
AZUSA.–Okay, let’s be honest. South Torrance had no business winning this game … almost.
Kristy Takahashi – who, though listed at 5-foot-6 on MaxPreps, is probably nearer to five feet with insoles – had no business launching a hopeless rainbow floater over 5-10 Chidube Okoro of Colony, and expecting it to actually go in.
The team from Ontario played smart, disciplined and effective basketball from start to finish at Azusa Pacific University on Saturday. Their center, 5-foot-10 junior Destinee Williams, led all scorers with 24 points, made 10 of her 13 field goal attempts, and dominated the boards with 11 rebounds.
In short, Colony played nearly perfect championship basketball … nearly.
South Torrance, however, played what might have been their most confused, disjointed 24 minutes of the season. The difference was the four minutes at the beginning and oh baby, those four at the end.
After jumping out to an 11-4 lead in the first quarter, all seemed to fall apart for South. Sloppy ball handling led to several turnovers, which were promptly and gladly converted into points by the taller, stronger Colony team.
South trailed 31-27 at halftime and it only got worse in the third. By midway through the fourth period, the Spartans were staring at a 12-point deficit, and the head-hanging by their fans had begun.
The team in green, however, had an entirely different outcome on their minds.
In one of the most dramatically quick comebacks this reporter has ever seen, South was reborn, erasing Colony’s lead with a 16-5 run, and stealing away with a 57-56 victory – and the CIF Southern Section Div. 2A championship.
With just over 13 seconds to play and trailing by one point, South bought the ball up court and seemed to be looking for senior guard Jaryn Fajardo, who finished with 11 points. She was well-guarded, so the ball found its way to Takahashi, who was left alone behind the three-point line in the left corner.
Rather than take the shot, she caught everyone by surprise by dribbling past 5-8 MyJoi Adams and lofting a one-handed work of art that found nothing but the bottom of the net.
South intercepted the inbound pass by Colony and the celebration was on.
“We practice those floaters every day in practice, for just this kind of situation,” said an emotionally drained Takahashi after the win.
“I wasn’t the one who was supposed to get the ball, but when it came to me, I decided it was better to drive than to try for a three.”
South head coach Bobby Imamura had a look of utter disbelief on his face at the final buzzer, but it soon sank in that his girls had pulled a rabbit out of a seemingly empty hat.
“Their size gave us a lot of problems,” Imamura said, delivering a slew of compliments to the Colony team. “At halftime, I just told them we need to stay positive and remember how good we are. In late games, we don’t like to set anything up. We like to play basketball.”
Of Takahashi’s final shot, he said, “We work on those floaters for a reason.”
Takahashi paced South with 20 points and added five steals. Kasey Takahashi had eight points and Gillian Yamasaki added one for the Spartans, who open the Southern California Regionals of the CIF State tournament tonight at home against Garfield.
• • •
Later in the day at the same APU gym, it was deja vu all over again for West Torrance. At the end of the game, there was the same Kayla Sato, screaming in mighty triumph, as she had done on the same floor almost exactly one year earlier, after West repeated as CIF-SS champions.
This year, the Warriors secured the Div. 1A title with a convincing 52-41 win over Troy of Fullerton, in a game that never saw them trail.
The 2015 final saw a more balanced attack from West. Sato, who had been the spark and the fire last year, scored 10 points, while teammate Jasmine Jones had 11. Hayley Tanabe had seven for West and Bailey Kurahashi added six.
That’s not to say Sato took it easy this time around. The senior was hustling, diving, sprawling and seemed to be in the center of every play. Her aggressiveness led to her picking up three fouls halfway through the second period, forcing head coach Mike Caporaso to sit his star and watch as Troy fought back.
“Coach just told me to calm down and re-focus,” Sato said. “It’s difficult because we always play hard, and in this game, we’re going to give everything we have.”
By the middle of the third quarter, reality began to set in for Troy. A three-pointer by Kurahashi extended the lead to 15, and the team from Orange County couldn’t seem to get their shots to fall.
“You have to give West credit,” said Troy assistant coach Caryn Ito. “As hard as we tried, we just didn’t play as well as usual.”
Barbara Sitanggan scored 10 points for Troy and Cori Okada had six.
West proved the strength of their program by winning a title despite the loss of some key players. Amie Nelson and Kayli Imoto graduated, and high-scoring Kylie Fujioka transferred to Mark Keppel High in Alhambra.
Kurahashi said her senior season has been the icing on an unimaginable run of success.
“I never would have dreamed we would go back-to-back,” she said. “West was nowhere when I came in, and I like to think we’ve made a difference.”
West Torrance will open the SoCal Regionals tonight at Edison in Fresno, while Troy’s season has come to an end.
• • •
Although it was the girls of Redondo bellowing “We Are the Champions” in the locker room after the Div. 2AA final, the battle against rival Mira Costa may not yet be over.
The top-seeded Sea Hawks took flight after some first-quarter jitters and ran away from Mira Costa, 60-37.
Nao Shiota was second on her team in scoring with 13 points.
Redondo was knocked out of the playoffs last year by – you guessed it – Mira Costa. The teams split two games during the regular season, including the showdown Feb. 12 for the Bay League title, won by a single point by Redondo.
Shiota said the CIF win wasn’t about payback, but Mira Costa has been a major obstacle.
“They were in our way to get to the title, but we came out here to play our best and have no regrets,” she said.
Haley Tojo led the Mustangs with 12 points, Keilani Ikehara had five and Halle Maeda added three.
Ikehara was clearly crestfallen after the loss.
“This is not who we are. We are a better team than this,” she said, adding that the defeat will not linger as the team heads to the State tournament. “What defines us isn’t wins or losses, but how we come back from hard feelings and terrible situations.”
The fun will reach a fever pitch if – and due to the scheduling, it’s possible – these two teams meet at State. Tonight, Redondo is home to San Pedro and Mira Costa hosts San Diego’s Westview.