By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor
One of the most impressive stories of this season will continue Friday, as Hamilton High continues its playoff run against Poly of Sun Valley.
The Yankees of Hamilton High are playing in the L.A. City Section’s Division 1, and their newest shooting guard has captured the hearts of fans across Southern California.
“She loves to shoot 3s … maybe too much. We have to remind her to pass the ball,” said Craig Suen of his daughter, Kayley. The lone senior on the Hamilton roster, she is a special needs student whose basketball skills have improved dramatically since she first picked up a ball only four or five years ago.
“She loves the game, loves to play, loves to be on the court,” Craig said.
Kayley joined a sports program at the Mar Vista Recreation Center around the age of 12, in the process meeting Sherland Chensam, the head coach at Hamilton.
“I think most coaches would see a kid like Kayley and think there’s no way to work with her at a competitive level,” Craig explained. “But Sherland stuck with her and it’s been a very positive experience for everyone.”
Kayley played most of this season on the JV team, but with the shooting guard averaging upwards of 20 points per game, Chensam has included her on the Varsity roster for the playoffs.
Hamilton won their first-round game last week, sweeping aside Arleta, 61-28.
For the final game of the regular season, the school honored Kayley with Senior Night festivities in front of a capacity crowd at the Hamilton gym.
“It was amazing; Coach said she’s never seen anything like it,” Craig said. “We’re just happy she’s had the opportunity to play high school basketball.”
Friday night’s Hamilton game against Poly is set for 7:30 p.m., to be played at Birmingham High School.
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The CIF Southern Section playoffs were set to continue on Wednesday, as The Rafu Shimpo was going to press.
In Div. 1, Esperanza, with Janelle Miyatake, Charlotte Muller and Lacie Miyatake, won a 40-39 thriller against Long Beach Poly last weekend, and earned a spot in Wednesday’s quarterfinal against Rosary Academy.
Esperanza finished first in the Crestview League with a perfect 6-0 record.
North Torrance was stunned by Rosary Academy on Saturday, with a 68-48 defeat.
Lauren Kamiyama’s Saxons, with Sam Yanagi, Reese Noa, Brittany Ishida, Keimi Santiago, Sage Misumi, Dara Tokeshi, Presley Noa, Kennedy Shimazaki, Miya Konishi, Mia Shiozaki, Kathryn Eguchi, Leyna Miyake, Bailey Enomoto and Emily Shibata, finish the season with a 18-7 record.
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Culver City was into the Div. 2A quarterfinals on Wednesday, preparing to face Leuzinger for a trip to the semis on Feb. 18.
In their second-round match last Saturday, the Centaurs found themselves holding onto a slim one-point lead at halftime against Yucca Valley. Culver City came out shooting, including a three-pointer by senior point guard Mia Washizaki, and led the rest of the way for a 53-47 victory.
Also in Div. 2A, the girls of Mark Keppel were hosting Portola on Wednesday, advancing after a 57-47 win over Calabasas over the weekend.
The Lady Aztecs feature Maile Tamaki, Jayde De Leon, Jasmine Yoshitake, Madison Kobayashi, Kylie Sakatani, Kylie Ng and Kiele Ohashi.
Maile Naito and Brentwood have reached the quarterfinals, after trouncing Northwood in the second round, 73-32.
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Redondo Union ended South Pasadena’s season on Saturday, with a Div. 2AA 57-34 victory at home.
The Sea Hawks, with Coco Funakoshi, Kyra Arakawa and Ashley Minei, hosted San Clemente on Wednesday evening.
Yuzu Harada, Jamie Rain Kim, Lotis Shoun and South Pasadena finishthe year at 19-11, including a perfect10-0 in the Rio Hondo League.
Also in Div. 2AA on Wednesday, Santa Monica, with Kalea Oshidari, were taking on Hart.
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South Torrance continued their playoff run on Wednesday, facing Rancho Christian for a berth into the Div. 3A semifinals.
The Spartans, who feature Keira Sakamoto, Keira Nakamura and Kylie Hayashi, took care of Bell Gardens last Saturday, 54-40.
Also in Div. 3A, Torrance came up short against Trinity Classical Academy on Saturday, 50-44.
Madison Osako, Kyra Seki, Kylie Nojima, Presley Tanaka, Kami Morofuji and Alyson Sasaki finish the year at 20-10.
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In Div. 4, Mia Shimabukuro, Dy’lan Niimi and Notre Dame Academy were on the court Wednesday night against California Lutheran.
The Regal Gryphons advanced with a nail-biting 47-45 win over San Jacinto.
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La Habra was battling for a spot in the Div. 4AA Final Four, as Megan Hamabe and the Highlanders were facing Rialto. La Habra downed El Toro last Saturday, 58-43.
Haruka Mikuma, Nozomi Mikuma and Irvine were also in the hunt for a semifinal berth on Wednesday, hosting Buena Park.
Irvine got past Edison last week, 52-47, to advance.
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In Div. 5AA, Gahr, with Alyssa Miyake and Lauryn Teramoto, were in action against Coachella Valley.
The Gladiators, who finished first in the San Gabriel Valley League, advanced with a 43-33 win over Hesperia Christian on Saturday.
Also in 5AA action, Amanda Marumoto and Marina took on Nordhoff with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
The season came to an end for Geffen Academy on Saturday, in a 54-46 loss to Immaculate Heart.
Sophomore Madeline Sugimoto, who also stars on the JAO Venice Fireballers club team, scored 17 points for GA.
With the victory, Immaculate Heart, who feature Nora Ito and Cailene Ito, were taking on St. Margaret’s on Wednesday for a trip to the Final Four.
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In the Open Division, Mater Dei, with Hannah Vela, Emily Shaw, Caia Elisaldez, Riley Tejones and Mei Ling Perry, were facing Santiago on Wednesday evening in Pool Play. Mater Dei will play at Etiwanda this Saturday.