The one in the paper is a quoteless, shorter version due to deadlines, but this one can be found at www.sbsun.com/sports as well as here.
By T.J. Berka
SANTA ANA – Considering that Cajon ended every practice this year with the simple chant of “Beat Poly”, additional motivation wasn’t exactly needed for the Cowgirls in their CIF-SS Division I-AA battle with Long Beach Poly Friday.
But it was provided.
“Apparently (Poly center Monique) Oliver said they were just going to have their way, that it was going be another game,” Cajon center Darshae Burnside said. “They were underestimating us and they didn’t think we’d give them a game.”
With a chip on their shoulder and a steely resolve, the Cowgirls made sure that Poly’s 34-game playoff winning streak was no more.
The No. 2-seeded Cowgirls pulled the shocker at Mater Dei High School, frustrating the top-seeded Jackrabbits and riding Layshia Clarendon’s 28 points to a 52-44 victory over Poly.
Cajon’s win broke Poly’s winning streak and was the Jackrabbits’ first loss to a California-based team this season. But more importantly, it was Cajon’s second straight CIF title, moving alongside their D2-A title victory over Ayala last year.
But as far as the Cowgirls were concerned, this one takes the cake.
“It doesn’t compare,” Clarendon said. “All year we’ve been talking about Poly, Poly and Poly. To come out here and beat them the way we did is just an awesome feeling.”
To get that feeling, the Cowgirls (28-2) did what they have done all year, and for that matter, the last three years – ride the broad shoulders of Clarendon and Burnside.
Clarendon was the point person on every Cajon possession, slowly getting up and continuing to pick apart the Jackrabbits (29-3) despite being knocked down constantly. She scored nine points in the first quarter, helping stake the Cowgirls out to an early 6-0 lead and ending the period with a 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Cajon a 16-11 advantage.
“We wanted to get up on them early and not let them have any momentum,” Clarendon said. “We’ve started out slow in every game and we didn’t want to do that again.”
Cajon never relinquished the lead and only allowed Poly within a basket once. A lot of that success can be attributed to Burnside, the all-time leading rebounder in the state of California.
Burnside struggled offensively against Poly’s 3-headed post combo of 6-foot-3 Monique Oliver, 6-4 junior Thaddesia Southall and 6-1 junior Ta’Nitra Byrd, only scoring nine points. But Burnside neutralized the threesome on the glass, pulling down 17 rebounds – equaling the combined total of Oliver, Southall and Byrd – and blocking seven shots.
“Darshae was awesome down there,” Clarendon said. “She did a great job of hanging tough and making it hard for them. We wanted them to shoot outside because we knew they couldn’t shoot very well. They just want to drive by you.”
Poly couldn’t take advantage from the outside, not hitting a 3-pointer until the fourth quarter. That allowed Cajon’s first-quarter lead to grow to 30-19 at halftime, 39-27 after three periods and to as many as 15 in the fourth before Poly was able to make a bit of a run at the end.
Poly’s best two opportunities to close the gap came early in the third quarter, when they scored six straight points at the beginning to close Cajon’s lead to 30-25, and with a 6-0 run in the fourth that closed Poly within 43-36.
But the Cowgirls always had the answers. After a 30-second timeout by Cajon coach Mark Lehman in the third, Maya Darby drilled a 3-pointer, spurring a 12-2 Cowgirl run that extended the lead to 42-27.
Jazzmeen Williams effectively ended Poly’s fourth-quarter hopes, scoring her only two points on a layup with 2:15 left that put the Cowboys up nine and started the celebration.
“This feels so much better than last year,” Burnside said. “Beating Poly and winning in the largest division is one of the best feelings I’ve had.”