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LJ Country Day beaten in state final

03/28/2014, 1:20pm PDT
By J.C. Davidson • Special to the U-T

Rough first half spoils Torreys' chances to win Division V title

La Jolla Country Day's Taylor Johnson (left) comforts teammate Hadiyah Muhammad after the Torreys were defeated in the State Division V championship game in Sacramento.

— They wore long expressions, all seven of them. And their coach, too. There was no joy on the season’s final afternoon.

The La Jolla Country Day girls basketball team had its campaign come to a humbling, abrupt end, falling to the speed, shooting, depth and exceptional execution of Los Altos Hills Pinewood 60-42 in the State Division V championship game Friday at Sleep Train Arena.

The NBA arena required a long trip and a Thursday overnight stay, and the task was all the more daunting after the Torreys found themselves behind early. A lethargic half surprised veteran La Jolla Country Day coach Terri Bamford, whose team generally sets the tempo. La Jolla Country Day was a step slow on defense, an inch shy on shots and trailed 15-6 after the first quarter and 39-13 at the half, one in which the Torreys shot 25 percent and turned it over 18 times.

Against a team as formidable as the Bay Area’s Panthers, that’s a sure quick exit strategy.

“That first half was not us,” Bamford said after the game. “We played scared, not enough intensity. I don’t know if it’s the big gym or the moment, but that’s not who we are. Sometimes you don’t have an answer.”

Bamford paused and added, “I’m really proud of how the girls played in the second half. To me, you have to have attitude and effort, and we had that in the second half.”

Bamford is in her 15th season with the Torreys, having led the program to the state final seven times with three titles. She’s a longtime teacher and counselor at the San Diego Section school and talks about “the journey” more than wins and losses. The Torreys had quite a journey this season, with injuries and personal problems thinning the roster to seven amid another challenging schedule.

Assistant coaches and any able bodies within earshot were pulled in to make for five-on-five practice sessions.

“We made it work,” Bamford said with a smile.

Bamford praised Pinewood for its showing, saying the Panthers have a “very high basketball IQ in that motion offense. They knew exactly what to do and where to pass the ball, and they’re very well-coached.”

That coach is Doc Scheppler, an animated sort who won his sixth state title in seven appearances since 2005.

Junior guard Marissa Hing scored 17 for Pinewood (30-3). Sophomore guard Mariana Ecija led La Jolla Country Day (20-12) with 18 and was presented with the CIF Sportsmanship Award medal afterward. Sophomore guard Mai-loni Henson had 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds for the Torreys, a young team that will graduate UC Santa Barbara signee Sabrina Callahan. She had seven points and seven rebounds.

Though La Jolla Country Day had the bigger lineup with five players 5-9 or taller, Pinewood easily maneuvered around the Torreys early with ball movement and quickness. Pinewood shot 47 percent through three quarters and had just 11 turnovers in the game (LJCD shot 32 percent for the game and had 26 turnovers).

In stark contrast to the Torreys, the Panthers were a postseason collection of giggles.

“I just knew the stars were aligned and we were ready to play our best game,” Scheppler said. “We had a great dinner last night, a great breakfast this morning. We got off to a good start, hit some threes, got rolling, played with confidence and swagger. That was an awesome performance, playing your best game in the biggest game of the season.”

Bamford anticipates a return to Sacramento. Henson is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.2 points, and Ecija was second (10.8).

The work starts next week, even if in the mental preparation mode.

“I’m proud of what these girls were able to accomplish,” Bamford said. “I love the school, teaching and helping teams develop. We’ll be fine.”

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