By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
ANAHEIM — Of all the Bishop Amat girls basketball championship teams this might have been the most blue-collar, hardest working of them all.
Without anyone near 6-feet, third-seed Bishop Amat pushed, shoved, tugged and frustrated top-seed Oak Park in Wednesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3A championship game at the Anaheim Arena, winning the school’s fifth girls basketball title since 1999 and first since 2006 with a convincing 44-30 victory.
Bishop Amat, who finished fourth in the difficult Del Rey League, will continue in the state playoffs next week after improving to 21-11 while Oak Park finishes 21-9.
It’s always difficult comparing championship teams, but this one seemed different than the others.
“Those other kids worked hard too, we didn’t win on accident,” Amat coach Richard Wiard explained in comparing his five champions. “But these kids have worked awful hard and they’re physical and don’t mind getting their nose dirty.
“They’re not as tall as the other groups and maybe we don’t have the division one players that we’ve had in past years, but that’s okay. A lot of effort can overcome that.” (To continue click thread).
Amat postgame celebration and trophy presentation
It certainly did.
Sophomore Paulina Santana led Bishop Amat with 14 points and sophomore forward Dagmar Ramirez played tough defense in the paint and hit four-of-six shots to finish with 10 points.
Junior forward Leeah Powell was as aggressive as always, finishing with five points and nine big rebounds and Kaysee Tayag chipped in with nine points.
“I couldn’t imagine a team being as prepared as we were but they unpleasantly surprised us,” Eagles coach Kenny Golub said. “Both teams knew each others playbook, it was a battle of who’s going to execute at the right times. They got off to a great start and were knocking down three’s and their defense was looking more tenacious than ours.”
Kelcey Haines led all scorers with 20 points for Oak Park, but only two other Eagles players scored. The Lancers held sharpshooter Sarah Bucknovitz to just seven points and Coutney Wing added three more and that was it.
Oak Park shot just 10-for-41 for the game, and scored just eight points during the second and third quarter combined.
“Defense was the key,” Wiard said. “We talked before the game that if we guarded them we would have a much better chance to win. Only three kids on their team scored, that’s a testament to all our defenders.
“I thought that Michelle Yamamoto did a great job on (Oak Park’s Erin Matsumoto) by shutting her out. She (Matsumoto) had a big game for them in the semifinals. Kasey (Tayag) did a great job on (Haines). Although she finished with 20 points, they were contested and she was just (six-for-21) for the game.”
After surging to a 15-10 first-quarter lead with three-pointers from Tayag, Yamamoto and Janae Chamois, the Lancers turned up the intensity and smothered the Eagles in the second quarter, nearly shutting them out entirely.
Haynes hit a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer — the Eagles’ only points of the quarter to stop Amat’s 12-0 run.
The Lancers led 25-13 at the break and continued contesting shots in the third quarter, limiting the Eagles to just five points to take a commanding 41-18 lead into the fourth.
“They weren’t the same as any team we’ve played,” Haines said. “They really box out and fight under the basket. They fight for the ball and work on every possession right to the end.”
Regardless of what title you’re talking about, that’s always been a trademark of Wiard-coached teams.
“We have a pretty strong tradition at Bishop Amat,” Wiard said. “The expectations are there and the way you fulfill those expectations is hard work.
“We don’t want to be the up and coming program we want to be the one that’s consistently good. Even though we hadn’t been in the championship (since 2006) we were pretty good the last few years. That’s a testament to these ladies’ effort and we’ll continue to do that.”