The Harvard-Westlake girls’ basketball team was eliminated from the CIF Division 4-AA Playoffs in a hard-fought 63-61 semifinal loss to Bishop Montgomery Saturday night in Taper Gym. Despite not making the finals of its divisional playoff bracket, the team is still in contention to receive a bid for state playoffs.
The score remained close from start to finish. At the end of the first quarter, the Wolverines led the Bishop Montgomery Lady Knights 15-14. After two quarters, the margin was increased to five as the girls went into the locker in control of the game with a 31-26 lead. The third quarter was when the momentum shifted, head coach Melissa Hearlihy said.
“We came out in the third quarter, and within the first minute, everything went wrong,” Hearlihy said. “At that point, I think [Bishop Montgomery] started to feel like they had a chance to win. I think we had done a good job of keeping a lid on it in the first half.”
In general, the first few minutes of the third quarter dictate the game more significantly than the first three minutes of any other quarter, she added.
“Today, we just couldn’t get anything right,” she said.
During the third quarter, the Lady Knights applied full-court defense and relentlessly attacked the basket, eventually taking a 42-40 lead at the end of the period.
The intensity in the gym was noticeably ramped up for the fourth quarter. A large Fanatics section, often times non-existent for girls’ basketball games, created an atmosphere similar to those of the boys’ basketball playoffs. During Bishop Montgomery’s free throws, stomping, chanting and heckling by not only the Fanatics but also the parents and specifically the Parent Hype Squad raised the volume in the gym to a deafening level. In the stands for both the home and away teams, finding a face that was not passionately yelling was hard work.
Possibly because it was the playoffs or because the girls were amped up from the pulsating energy in the gym, both teams started attacking the basket with a vengeance. The ultra-aggressive defenses of each team obliged when opposing players barreled into the paint, practically begging for a foul. As a result, the girls committed numerous hard fouls and shot a ton of free throws.
“That team shot 14 out of 14 from the free throw line,” Hearlihy said. “I think that was the difference for the most part. I felt like we couldn’t get a break.”
The end was just as close as the rest of the game. It had a fair amount of controversy also. With the Lady Knights up by two points, they were attempting to inbound the ball underneath their own basket, meaning they would have to dribble the length of the court to get a shot off, but with the shot clock turned off and under 30 seconds left in the game, the baseline referee called a technical foul on Jayla Ruffus-Milner ‘18 for crossing the line while trying to defend the girl inbounding the ball. It gave Bishop Montgomery two free throws and possession of the ball at half-court. The fans on the Harvard-Westlake side of the gym erupted in disagreement.
“It looked to us that the girl inbounding the ball put the ball in Jayla’s hands,” Hearlihy said.
This implies that it would have been a steal and there would not have been a violation. Despite the indignant response of the home team crowd, the referee remained resolute in his original call, and the Lady Knights remained perfect at the line, sinking both free throws.
The Wolverines came up with a clutch steal that resulted in a layup on the other end on the ensuing inbounds play, cutting the deficit to two with a little over two seconds showing on the clock.
At this point, the Wolverines had no timeouts left and the clock was running, so the smart play for the Lady Knights would have been to not touch the ball and let the remaining two seconds expire while they wait to inbound the ball. Either because it was in the heat of the moment or she thought that Harvard-Westlake had a timeout that she could prevent them from using if she passed the ball in, the Bishop Montgomery player immediately inbounded the ball to her teammate who was promptly fouled to stop the clock.
Because this all happened in the span of two seconds, the scoreboard operator didn’t have enough time to react to the foul before the buzzer sounded. The Harvard-Westlake fans argued that there should be one second left on the clock because they thought the foul was committed with one second left. There was a moment of silence as everyone tried to figure out what had happened, during which time the Bishop Montgomery players began to celebrate. Before Hearlihy could approach the referees, they quickly exited the court and left the players to shake hands as is customary after all high school basketball games. Usually, however, the referees stick around so players can shake their hands as well.
After the game, the girls sat in silence in the locker room as many cried, Teeana Cotangco ‘15 said. Hearlihy told the girls how proud she was of how hard they played. Three Wolverines scored in double digits. Ruffus-Milner finished with 17 points, Jordan Brown ‘16 had 11 and Cotangco dropped 18, including six consecutive clutch points in the fourth quarter coming off of a three-pointer and an and-one.
With the regular season and CIF Playoffs over, the only thing left for the team is state playoffs. Eight teams from Division 4 are admitted, Hearlihy said. The winners of Division 4-A and Division 4-AA automatically qualify as well as the runner up in Division 4-AA, the tougher of the two and the one that Harvard-Westlake plays in. Two spots will be filled by Sierra Canyon and Oaks Christian. They were moved up to the Open Division for playoffs. This leaves three spots open. It is likely that the Wolverines, who had a tough schedule and were seeded second in the Division 4-AA playoffs, will be selected as one of the last three, but it will not be announced for certain until a committee decides next week. Until then, the team will go about its usual practices to prepare for the possibility of getting admitted to the state playoffs.
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Original article published for the Harvard-Westlake Chronicle at http://www.hwchronicle.com/sports/girls-eliminated-from-playoffs-in-semi-finals/
Photo by Henry Vogel