There were no tears streaming down the faces of Sierra High’s girls basketball players.
No lowered heads nor slumped shoulders.
Sierra understood that on paper it was overmatched while playing a school with an enrollment nearly four times larger, though the Chieftains wouldn’t give in to such thinking on the court until after their quest for a third Central Section title in five years had ended.
Second-seeded Sierra never led and let the game get out of control with a rash of turnovers and shooting troubles en route to a 68-51 loss to top-seeded Independence in the Central Section Division II championship Friday at Selland Arena.
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“They’re just a better team,” said Whitney Naylor, the Chieftains’ four-year point guard. “They’ve probably been in Division II for a while. It’s our first year. We gave them all of our best.
“We just lost it. We lost our mojo. That was pretty much it.”
Promoted again by the section because of past success — winning the D-III title last season and in D-IV in 2011 — Sierra (23-4) saw an 11-game winning streak snapped.
Independence (26-2) captured its second section title, winning in D-III in 2012.
The Falcons didn’t press but did apply full-court man defense that got Sierra out of sync, with its ball handlers often harassed into mistakes.
It eventually made the Chieftains crack as a 31-28 halftime deficit turned into a double-digit Falcons lead midway through the third quarter. Sierra finished with 26 turnovers and shot 28% from the field, including 25.9% (7 of 27) in the second half.
Independence also benefited from 19 offensive rebounds.
“The biggest part of the game was we couldn’t control them on the offensive boards,” Sierra coach Cathy Lauritzen said. “They could jump much higher than us and we weren’t boxing out the way we should’ve.
“And we didn’t make the shots that we normally do. We didn’t really get into a rhythm offensively. They hit some big shots on us and then it was over.”
Sierra received 16 points apiece from Naylor and Megan Stark but those totals were off a combined 10-of-35 shooting (28.6%). The backcourt duo did total seven steals.
“We wanted to make them work,” Independence coach Val Mancera said. “They still had great games. But we wanted to make them earn everything they got.”
Sierra also had few answers for Falcons freshman Kahlaijah Dean, who led all scorers with 21 points. It was Dean’s 3-pointer from the left corner with 4 minutes left in the third quarter that put Independence ahead 41-32 and began to give the Falcons some separation.
Independence junior Ebony Sanders added six points and 12 rebounds, and freshman Jai’auna Kinder and sophomore Jasmin Dixon 14 and 13 points, respectively.
“It feels good to be back here and win it,” Mancera said. “This group right here has the ability to keep the run going.”
As Independence celebrated at midcourt, Sierra players hugged and high-fived each other.
“I told them to keep their heads up high and be proud of yourself,” Lauritzen said. “You have a lot to be proud of.
“We’re the group that’s not supposed to do anything. We have 450 kids in our school. We’re playing against schools that are five times bigger than us. Just getting here was remarkable.”