After their win at Montebello on Tuesday, Keppel’s Maddie Kobayashi (left) and Jennifer Nitta offered some insight into the playoff outlook for their male counterparts.

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor

The girls of Mark Keppel High had an easy go of it on Tuesday, cruising to a 70-24 victory at Montebello.

Afterwards, most of the team hung around to watch their male counterparts play the late game, and two of Keppel’s stars offered some brief insight into the boys’ season.

The Lady Aztecs are unbeaten in Almont League play, and will ease into the postseason after their final league game Friday at San Gabriel.

The young men of Keppel haven’t enjoyed such smooth going, however. Some injuries and COVID-forced idle time have made it difficult to set a team rhythm, and the Aztecs sorely needed a win Tuesday over the host Oilers. They responded with a 53-31 triumph, improving both their league record (5-4) and their chances at a playoff berth.

“They were struggling early on, to be honest,” said Jennifer Nitta, who had seven points in the earlier game on Tuesday. “They missed almost two weeks, but since then, they’ve started to really gel as a team.”

Sophomore point guard Maddie Kobayashi sank a pair of three-pointers against Montebello, and said the boys will do well if they continue to be a little choosier on offense.

In the boys’ game, Collin Matsukiyo (above) scored five points and Jerran Sumimoto (below) had six.

“If they set up more high-percentage shots and are able to knock them down, like they’re doing tonight, they’re going to improve on their results.”

As a senior, Nitta said she can feel for the boys’ health setbacks, knowing full well that COVID can sideline any team, at any time.

“We are all aware that if someone gets it, it could shut down the season. This is my last year, and nobody wants to see it end like that,” she explained. “We’re lucky that our whole district is super strict about the protocols. Just being able to play, we realize the value of every moment.”

Jerran Sumimoto had six points and fellow senior Collin Matsukiyo scored five for Keppel, who finished Tuesday tied for third place in the Almont League with nearby rival Schurr High.

The teams will face each other twice more to wrap up conference play, this Saturday and Sunday.

In the earlier matchup, Keppel’s girls were led by Annie Ye’s 15 points. Kylie Ng scored five, while Ashley Ito added four.

Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo

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