By JORDAN IKEDA, Rafu Contributor
This season, but especially the past month, has been a journey of restitution for the West Torrance girls varsity basketball team. There was the blowout win over Rio Mesa two weeks ago — payback for the heart-breaking two-point, overtime loss at their hands in the 2012 semis.
Then last Saturday in the quarters, the Warriors cruised to a 22-point deconstruction of Moorpark—the same club that knocked them out of the 2013 playoffs by one made bucket.
Tuesday night’s 66-51 victory over crosstown rival North Torrance in the CIF Southern Section Division II-A seminfinal concluded what junior guard Bailey Kurahashi called the team’s “redemption tour.”
For Kurahashi and fellow juniors Kayla Sato and Kylie Fujioka and seniors Kayli Imoto and Amie Nelson, Tuesday’s win was redemption for that crushing loss against Rio Mesa.
Now, all that remains ahead for West is history.
“We want to make a name for ourselves,” Sato told The Rafu Shimpo after she delivered an all-around brilliant performance against North with nine points, nine rebounds, and six steals. “We want this West High team to be unforgettable.”
If Tuesday’s crowd is any indication, the 13-14 Warriors are nearly there. Lines stretching out the faculty parking lot formed 20 minutes before tip-off and the entire gymnasium, including the upper decks, was filled to capacity.
“We’ve never had a crowd like this where we had to open up the mezzanine,” said Warriors head coach Mike Caporaso. “It’s great for the community. I mean, everybody was here. I think because of this, the girls were nervous early on. But then they settled down and just started playing basketball.”
North came into the game on their own impressive streak having knocked off Norwalk, Golden Valley, and Royal to reach the seminfinals.
Despite a clear size disadvantage, the Saxons rallied for a 15-14 first quarter lead behind a scrappy, active defense that forced turnovers and had West scrambling.
About two minutes into the second quarter, the Warriors found their groove and began imposing their will.
“We have this thing where we all have to help each other and pick each other up,” Fujioka said. “We don’t let anyone get down. We know our offense will come, we just have to lock down on defense.”
On that end, Fujioka led by example holding down the inside and acting as a deterrent to any Saxon drives into the lane. Her presence inside allowed West’s guards to pressure the ball on the wings. Hayley Tanabe and Sato played aggressive defense, but it was Imoto who attached herself to the hips of North’s point guards and set the tone for the Warriors on the perimeter.
This combination of inside-outside defense constantly had North searching out shots with the shot clock winding down.
As is usually the case, getting stops on defense boosted the team’s offense. While Fujioka and Dakota Jones (11 rebounds) combined for only three made field goals, the guards more than made up for it.
Kurahashi spent much of the latter three quarters snaking around the court in search of open space. She got there enough to lead the team with 17 points including five triples.
“They were running with a lot of zone against us,” Kurahashi said. “So, what we did was get the ball inside, and when the double went down, the skip [pass] was open. I’ve been working on my game, on trying to make those threes. Thank goodness they were going in!”
Tanabe (14 points) and Nelson also added a pair of threes each and by the half, West’s lead was double digits—a lead they extended in the third, at one point going up by 22 points. Nelson finished with 10 points, Fujioka had nine and Imoto added three.
To their credit, North never backed down.
Katelyn Serizawa scored a team high 17 points for North, 10 of them coming in the fourth quarter where she and her teammates gamely kept fighting. The Saxons actually cut the lead down to 10 midway through the fourth, but could never get any closer than that.
North head coach Lauren Kamiyama praised the tenacity of her team, who came into Tuesday’s high-pressure match with little postseason experience. Kamiyama herself was charged with a technical foul for arguing with the officials in the fourth quarter.
“My kids were fighting, so I needed to fight for my kids as well. That’s the one thing my kids have brought since day one. They work hard,” she told The Daily Breeze.
West (29-4) advances to Saturday’s final to play El Dorado at 4 p.m. at Azusa Pacific University. Kristy Omura and company earned their way to the title game with a 52-38 win over Patriot.
With the redemption tour now concluded, West is now on the Nat King Cole tour – looking to become “unforgettable.”
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More good news for local basketball fans came from the Inland Empire on Tuesday, as Century City’s girls punched their ticket to this weekend’s finals with a 68-55 win over Norco.
A potent and balanced mix of a strong inside game, superior rebounding and accurate outside shooting made the difference for the Centaurs.
Kelsey Ueda led all scorers with 22 points and nine rebounds. Katie Lin had nine and Kate Suyetsugu added a point for Culver City.
On Friday, Culver City will face either Mira Costa or Redondo Union for the Div. 2AA championship. The Mustangs and Sea Hawks were set to play their semifinal match Wednesday night at Mira Costa.
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Like North Torrance, Brea Olinda and Huntington Beach will have to wait until next week to see if their season continues with a berth in the State tournament.
Brea Olinda got 15 points, including three 3-pointers, from Jamee Katsuyama, but the Wildcats were narrowly edged in their Div. 1AA semifinal by Millikan 70-66.
In the 1A semifinal, Paola Roa scored 21 and Stephanie Louie added 10, but host Huntington Beach fell to Ventura, 60-41.
– Rafu Sports Editor Mikey Hirano Culross contributed to this report.