They bused 250 miles from Long Beach with a pedigree unlike any in the land, a roster of gifted athletes hardened by Southern Section competition and, not to ignore, drawing from an enrollment of 5,000.
Long Beach Poly’s girls basketball program has won six state titles – and this showed why:
Unfazed by a crowd of 2,500, the third-seeded Jackrabbits kept their poise after losing all of a 13-point second-half lead, closed with an 11-1 run and repelled No. 2 Clovis West 53-44 Tuesday night in the semifinals of the Southern California Regional Open Division.
Danae Marquez’s baseline drive gave the Golden Eagles (30-4) their only lead at 43-42 with 3 minutes, 40 seconds left.
But Poly – crowned the national “Sports School of the Century” by Sports Illustrated in 2005 – responded with a driving scoop by Da’Jah Jackson and a putback by USC commit Ayanna Clark – a 6-foot-3 junior who had just returned to the game with four fouls – to restore command for good.
It was 46-44 Jackrabbits when Jackson scored on a layup following a Danae Miller steal and assist with 1:37 remaining.
“We either needed it to end a little earlier or give us few more minutes,” Clovis West coach Craig Campbell said. “We exerted a lot of energy to not only battle back but flip it and get the lead. And that’s so hard, especially against a team of that caliber, a national-level team. It showed a lot for the character of our girls.”
Clovis West would score again only on a free throw by Sarah Bates.
Clovis West missed its final three free throws, finishing 12 of 25 from the line.
And on a night the Eagles had to be extraordinary in free throw and three-point shooting to survive against the much-bigger Jackrabbits (27-4), they were far from it while opposing a pressure, man-to-man defense unlike anything remotely seen in the Central Section.
Clovis West made four three-pointers after averaging 7.5 a game coming in. The Eagles finished the season with a school-record 251.
Bates was the Eagles’ only double-figure scorer with 11. And junior forward Bre’yanna Sanders competed well inside against Clark and 6-1 Jasmine Jones on a night Clovis West played one senior, Aysha Kirkland.
While the Eagles coasted to a fourth straight Central Section Division I championship with a 69-38 win over Edison a week and a half ago at Selland Arena, maybe this was a night their youth surfaced on one of the brightest stages in program history.
Clovis West made one three-pointer while falling behind 29-16 late in the second quarter.
“We started out the game very tight and nervous,” Campbell said. “But (the Jackrabbits) had a lot to do with that.”
Clearly, Poly coach Carl Buggs arrived conscious of the Eagles’ long-range shooting ability.
He called timeouts immediately after Clovis West’s first three successful three-point shots: “There was a purpose to that,” he said. “We broke away from the game plan and had to focus to get it back.”
In crunch time, that’s precisely what happened in vintage Poly fashion.
“We knew it would be a tough game here,” Buggs said. “Getting that focus back was huge, just to settle down and relax. I’m just glad we came out on top.”
The Jackrabbits will play top-seeded Chaminade-Canoga Park for the SoCal Open Division title Saturday at 6 p.m. at The Pyramid at Long Beach State.
Meanwhile, the biggest girls upset in the country unfolded in a NorCal semifinal as Pinewood-Los Altos Hills defeated the nation’s No. 1 St. Mary’s-Stockton 72-69.
Pinewood, seeded fourth in the North, will play Miramonte-Orinda for the NorCal Open Division crown.
Long Beach Poly 53, Clovis West 44
Long Beach Poly (27-4)
Clovis West (30-4)
LBP: Ayanna Clark 11, Danae Miller 10, Kyra Brady 2, Da’Jah Jackson 8, Jasmine Jones 10, Cierra Belvin 4, Kathryn Headspeth 8.
CW: Danae Marquez 5, Sarah Bates 11, Aari’yanna Sanders 2, Aysha Kirkland 9, Megan Anderson 9, Bre’yanna Sanders 8.