By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
You’ll have to excuse the Duarte High School girls basketball team for feeling a little overlooked this week after the pairings for the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A playoffs were announced. The Falcons have a 23-1 record and 21-game winning streak but were not made one of the top-four seeds in the playoffs. They instead were assigned the No. 5 seed and a home game with El Segundo on Thursday night. (To continue, click thread)
“I thought we’d be a little higher than No. 5,” Falcons coach Mark Smith said. “It’s probably because of our past history in the playoffs. We have the best record in the division, and I thought we’d be a little higher than that.”
The top four seeds are as follows: No. 1 Oaks Christian (20-7), No. 2
St. Anthony’s (14-8), No. 3 JSerra (9-17) and No. 4 Valley Christian (17-9). The Falcons’ record easily eclipses those teams and, coupled with the fact that only one team has been within 10 points at the final buzzer of Duarte during its 21-game win streak, one might have thought a higher seeding was deserved.
“We’re trying to break down barriers,” Smith said. “After the third game of the season, the girls told me they think they can go undefeated the rest of the season. And that’s what we did.
“I’m pleased we’re in the playoffs. This has been a record-breaking season for Duarte High School.”
Despite the slight from the selection committee, Smith said his team won’t let it consume them, at least this week anyway. El Segundo is an at-large team with an 11-16 record and is not expected to give the Falcons much of a battle.
But once his team starts playing in more evenly matched games, that’s when Smith expects his girls to come out with something to prove.
“The girls are still babies, they’re all just sophomores and juniors,” Smith said. “I don’t think they realize what’s going on yet. I don’t think the El Segundo is a statement game.
“We’re picked to win the first game. We’re not the underdog in the first game. Anybody can be beat, but after the first round then we’re making a statement.”
The Falcons have been led by Imari Brown’s 17.9 points per game, but Shereese Cox, Mikayla Tickey and Yasmine Wilson also are averaging in double figures.
EXPECTATIONS HIGH AT BONITA
There may be no team under more pressure to have a big postseason than Bonita.
After finishing 24-2, the Bearcats were awarded the No. 2 seed in the Division 3A playoffs and begin the dance with a home game on Thursday against Palm Springs.
Bonita entered the season with a veteran team after reaching the semifinals last year. Add to the mix standout freshman point guard Nikki Wheatley, who hasn’t disappointed, and you’ve got the makings of a championship-caliber team. And that’s what many Bearcats fans are expecting to happen over the next few weeks.
“We knew coming into the year that just to get a league championship or just to get to the playoffs wasn’t going to be enough for us,” Bonita coach Darren Baumunk said. “The bar is set high for us and I think our girls are going to respond well.”
Orange Lutheran, which Bonita beat earlier this season, was made the division’s top seed. Bishop Amat, which beat Bonita on a last-second shot earlier this season, was given the No. 3 seed.
The Bearcats may get a chance to avenge the Amat loss if both teams advance to the semifinals. But Baumunk knows looking ahead could prove costly, even though it’s admittedly hard not to do.
“Obviously, when you get to the playoffs, anything can happen so you take it one game at a time,” Baumunk said.
“At the same time, I remember I told our girls after we lost that (Amat) game, if we do what we need to do and take care of our business, we’re going to get an opportunity to play them again.”