From September to June, high school athletes from around the Whittier area provided some thrilling moments for fans to enjoy. Memories that stand out include a game-winning last-second 3-point basket by Abel Ramirez that led to Cal to a thrilling 52-51 Del Rio League victory over Pioneer, and Cassandra Hair’s put-back bucket in the final seconds at home that helped Whittier rally for a 53-52 triumph over Santa Fe.
During baseball season, Santa Fe and La Serna played 11 scoreless innings in the rain before the Chiefs scored twice in the top of the 12th for a 2-0 victory and an early share of first place in the DRL. And in the season opener for both teams, St. Paul opened edged Santa Fe 6-5 thanks to a walk-off hit by freshman Julian Sansores. Just minutes before, the Chiefs’ Eli Ledesma tied the game with a home run to right field.
On the softball field, St. Paul ended years of Del Rey League frustration by sweeping rival Bishop Amat in three games, including a 10-7 marathon at York Field that clinched a share of the league crown.
But some moments separated themselves from the others, either with thrilling endings or come-from-behind performances or by sheer competitive nature.
Here are the top five:
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5. Whittier Christian’s girls volleyball team lost the first set of its CIF Division 2A semifinal against Troy in the Warriors’ raucous gym. But behind 26 kills from senior Kylee Wolfe, the Heralds fought back for a 19-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-19 victory. Four days later, they swept Mayfield to claim their second consecutive 2A crown and began a state tournament run that was only ended by eventual state finalist Corona Santiago.
4. What ended as the best playoff run ever for the boys basketball team at Cantwell-Sacred Heart actually began with heartbreaking loss against the best team in the state. The Cardinals opened the CIF postseason in the highly competitive Open Division, and they nearly knocked off unbeaten Mater Dei. Senior guard E.J. Mejia made 4 of 7 3-point shots and finished with 18 points as CSHM took Mater Dei to overtime, the only team to do so all year. The Monarchs eventually pulled out a 66-59 victory on their home floor, but not before Cantwell put a huge scare into the Mater Dei faithful. The Cardinals eventually qualified for the Division 4 state tournament and eventually reached the Southern California final, losing to eventual state champ Bishop Montgomery. After barely surviving against CSHM, Mater Dei ended the season at 35-0 and claimed its fourth consecutive state title.
3. La Serna’s girls water polo team avenged its loss to Troy in the CIF Division 4 championship game a year earlier by claiming a thrilling 5-4 sudden-death triumph in a finals rematch in March. The teams ended regulation tied at 3, and each scored once in overtime to force the sudden-death period. Both teams turned away a scoring chance by the other, including a shot by Troy’s Marissa Vaccher that rebounded off the inside of the post. But Lancers freshman Carissa Perez took a cross-pool pass from Bella Villa and ended the affair with a lob shot over the outstretched arms of Troy goalie Jessica Harris. Senior goalie Jacqui Verdugo was also outstanding for the Lancers, turning away a 5-meter penalty shot in the first half and several point-blank attempts in the second.
2. The softball teams from St. Paul and La Serna officially ended the season with a 2-2 record against each other, but the Swordsmen earned the most important victory of the season, a 2-1 decision in the CIF Division 3 final. St. Paul senior pitcher Koreen Orozco was brilliant all day, allowing the Lancers just two hits while inducing 17 ground ball outs. Krystal Gutierrez got the Swordsmen on the board with a first-inning double off La Serna ace Jamie Wren, and Niko Walker added a sacrifice fly later that brought in Bryanna Campos. The title was the first for St. Paul since 1988, and a few days later they were selected the State Division III Team of the Year by CalHi Sports.
1. La Serna’s 41-38 double overtime football victory over Norwalk in the CIF Southeast Division final was, quite simply, one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever covered, at any level. With La Serna quarterback Frankie Palmer and Norwalk super back Rashaad Penny leading the way, both teams played spectacularly. Penny scored four TDs – two on the ground and two through the air – and finished with 211 total yards. Palmer added three touchdowns of his own on 105 rushing yards, and he also scored a 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter that forced OT. But his finest play came on fourth down in the second overtime period, with his team trailing by three points. The senior dropped back and first looked to his left for an open receiver. Seeing no one, he rolled right and found Matthew Rosales wide open for a 19-yard touchdown that gave La Serna its first CIF football title since 1967. La Serna tied the score in the fourth after Tony Ceron blocked a Norwalk field goal attempt, and Kevin Ramos returned the ball 75 yards for a TD.