After they had beaten Fontana, 71-48, to win their second consecutive Southern Section championship, the Lady Monarchs of Morningside High gathered in a circle in Kellogg Gymnsium and joined together in an abbreviated team embrace.
The coaches and players then broke away and strode off to meet with family and friends who had made the long trek to Cal Poly Pomona and now wanted to offer their congratulations.
From all indications, this was a rather subdued celebration from a squad that has just won the Southern Section 5-AA championship in workman-like fashion and, in the process, dispatched a team that had been beaten just once in 1988-89.
The Monarchs, ranked No. 3 in the nation in a USA Today poll and top-seeded in the CIF 5-AA tournament, appear to have become accustomed to winning. They are now 29-1, having lost only to Louisville (Ky.) South, ranked No. 2 nationally.
So winning games and championships is just the norm, and there’s no reason for the Monarchs to get up in arms over a simple victory. Or is that the real reason?
“We’re not celebrating too hard right now because we know we have to prepare for the next round of games,” said freshman forward Janet Davis, who scored 15 points, including nine in the pivotal third quarter, and pulled down 10 rebounds. “We can celebrate and have fun, but we know what’s ahead of us, too.”
What’s next for the Lady Monarchs is the Division I state tournament, which starts off regional play next week. Pairings will be drawn sometime today at the Southern Section offices.
All too fresh in Morningside’s memory is last year’s state championship game. After winning the Southern Section 4A title, the Monarchs were unceremoniously dumped by Fremont, 52-50. A return trip and a chance for redemption has motivated Morningside the entire 1988-89 season.
Friday night at Cal Poly Pomona, the Monarchs looked ready for the next round of games from the outset when they scored the first 10 points and never looked back.
Guard JoJo Witherspoon started the scoring with an easy lay-up, and Tyesha Whiting followed with a pair of free throws. Junior center Lisa Leslie then scored six points in a row.
Fontana (27-2) finally got on the board with 5:10 remaining in the first period when center Danielle Carter fooled Leslie with a nifty fake and scored an easy three-footer. Carter, who had all nine of Fontana’s points in the first period, helped the Lady Steelers close to within 14-9 with two minutes left in the quarter, but that was the closest Fontana would get.
“I knew that no matter how many points Danielle Carter got inside, it wouldn’t be enough if it was just her,” said Leslie, who scored 24 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, blocked five shots and had four steals. “By the second quarter we had pretty much figured out their defense.”
The Monarchs closed strong in the first quarter but received a scare when Witherspoon took a nasty fall with 20 seconds remaining. She left the game but reported back with more than seven minutes left in the second quarter.
Sparked by the return of their play-making guard, the Monarchs went on a 16-2 run over the next five minutes to take a 30-11 advantage. Morningside led, 40-18, at halftime.
“I’m a country girl,” said Witherspoon, who is originally from Arkansas. “I’ve got a lot of heart.”
By this time, Morningside had forced Fontana to change its offense by denying Carter the ball inside and daring Fontana to take the outside shot.
And that was the Lady Steelers’ undoing. Guard Tina Felt was 3 for 26 from the field, forward Jolanda Jackson was 2 for 8 and Kimberly Barnes was 0 for 4. The entire Fontana team shot only .255 (14 for 55) in the game.
“We were getting the outside shot, but we couldn’t hit anything,” lamented Fontana Coach Jack Willis, whose team may still receive an at-large bid in the state championship round. “But, really, credit them. They’re an excellent club, and they’re the reason we didn’t hit anything.”
The game was essentially over by halftime, but Witherspoon and Davis started the third period as though it were still close. Leslie scored from inside, Davis converted a free throw for a three-point play, Witherspoon scored, then Davis hit three baskets in a row.
Witherspoon capped off the third period with three baskets in the last minute.
“The difference tonight,” Morningside Coach Frank Scott said, “was JoJo Witherspoon and Lisa Leslie. They are two great competitors. Witherspoon just controlled the floor and took whatever they gave her, and Lisa did a great job on their big girl (Carter).”
Witherspoon finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, while forward Akiba Flanagan had four points and eight rebounds.
Carter led Fontana with 19 points and 16 rebounds.
The Palos Verdes boys’ soccer team wasn’t taking any chances Friday afternoon in the Southern Section 4-A championship game against Edison at Gahr High.
With an opportunity to bring back to Palos Verdes the first CIF soccer championship in the school’s history, the Sea Kings started quickly, scoring two goals in the game’s first 18 minutes, and breezed to a 2-0 victory.
Palos Verdes, which held the top spot in the 4-A rankings the entire 1988-89 season, finishes with a 33-0 record. Sunset League representative Edison is 13-6-3.
The Sea Kings got on the board 13 minutes into the game when Brandon DeMott, in good position after Lance Haworth’s shot was blocked by goalie Taylor Marcus, scored on the rebound.
Five minutes later, Jeff Bowers took a pass from Al Lindsay and scored on a header.
With the victory, Palos Verdes set several Southland records, including best single-season record. The previous record was set by South Torrance, which went 28-0-1 in 1974.