By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
SANTA ANA — The sight of a lone girls basketball championship banner hanging on the wall from 19 years ago served as a constant reminder of what this season was about for Pasadena Poly.
The top-seeded Panthers made an emphatic statement for the third time this season against their Prep League foe, beating Chadwick 55-42 for the CIF-Southern Section Division 5A championship Saturday afternoon at Mater Dei High.
Pasadena Poly (26-2) now awaits the announcement today of the CIF State playoff brackets. For now, the Panthers can go forward with making room for a new banner.
“It’s real special because their names will be up there forever,” Pasadena Poly coach Kim Weber said. “We talked about that over the last couple months, that here’s a chance to leave your name on your school’s wall for everybody else to see.”
There was no question who was leading them to the promised land.
Michelle Miller carried the Panthers on her back all season, avenging their semifinal ouster last season. She scored 24 of her game-high 32 points in the second half, but she had some considerable help along the way.
Courtney Foster, who finished with 11 points while commanding the point, played with such poise and composure that it’s hard to imagine she’s only a sophomore.
“Well, I’m glad it seems that way,” Foster said. “I really try not to let anything get to me. Though there’s a big crowd I knew it was our game. I couldn’t let anything get to me.”
“She’s a spitfire,” Weber said of Foster. “I saw greatness in her last year as a freshman point guard for us. She continues to grow with every game, big or small.”
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Senior captain Jade Richard-Craven, the team leader in steals, was at it again, pestering the worn-down Dolphins (21-9). Craven scored six points to go along with eight rebounds and two blocked shots, but it was her swarming, in-your-face defense that wreaked havoc on Chadwick.
“She brought defense and intuitiveness to make some key plays defensively,” Weber said.
Miller, the two-time Star-News Player of the Year, was slowed down but never stopped. The junior guard gained steam early in the third quarter, scoring seven quick points to give Pasadena Poly a 30-23 lead with 5:50 left in the quarter.
But Miller was only getting started, and when that became clear, Chadwick coach Natalie Jarrett called a timeout in an effort to put a damper on Miller’s rhythm. It worked, but only for so long. Miller battled for position inside, converting a putback before being fouled with 3.1 seconds left in the third quarter. Her free throw gave the Panthers a 37-31 lead heading into the fourth.
Pasadena Poly saw its lead swell to 15, mostly coming from free throws after the Panthers’ relentless attack on the basket. Pasadena Poly shot 60 percent (21 of 35) from the free-throw line.
“(Chadwick) has a tendency to foul and we wanted to make sure we got to the line as many times as possible and convert,” Weber said.
Miller garnered most of the attention this year, reaching the national landscape earlier this season when she was selected ESPN Rise’s player of the week. But her impressive resume was missing something – a CIF championship.
“She wanted to prove that she’s a great player on a great team,” Weber said. “And she did tonight.”
Kaitlyn Olah scored five points and Tessa Loera had one for a Panthers team that graduates four seniors (Richard-Craven, Sydnee Cua, Caroline Lehman and Jane Davidson) who will go out as champions.
“I think it’s Magic Johnson who said everybody on our championship team doesn’t get publicity,” Weber said, “but everybody on our team is a champion.”