Questions about how Morningside High would perform without All-American center Lisa Leslie have tailed first-year Coach Ron Randle since he took over the girls’ basketball program last fall.
With Leslie, who now plays at USC, the Monarchs won three consecutive CIF titles and two consecutive state crowns. Under Randle, they have the chance to keep those streaks alive.
Jumping out to a huge first-quarter lead, top-seeded Morningside repelled visiting Lynwood’s comeback bid and held on for a 56-54 CIF 1-A Division semifinal victory Wednesday night at Inglewood.
The Monarchs (28-2) now play Chino, which scored a 55-42 victory over Chaffey, in the championship game Friday at 8:15 p.m. at UC Irvine. Lynwood, the division’s fourth-seeded team, fell to 24-4.
“I’m pretty excited because I thought these girls deserved another opportunity,” said Randle, who took over for Frank Scott after last season. “Everybody asked how we’d do without Lisa. Well, we’ve been showing how we’d do. We’re going back to the party.”
A party that was nearly spoiled by the Knights.
After erasing an 11-point, first-quarter deficit, Lynwood rebounded to take a 50-47 advantage into the final quarter. Both teams had trouble scoring in the fourth quarter, but the Monarchs found just enough offense to notch the win.
“There were a lot of tense moments and it seemed like nobody wanted to win the game,” Randle said. “Fortunately we have a lot of experienced players who came through for us in the clutch.”
Forward Tina Thompson paced the Monarchs with 16 points and guard Princess Murray had 12. Guard Akiba Flanagan added 10.
Lynwood limited Janet Davis to four points, but the 6-4 center hauled down five rebounds and blocked five shots. She also tied the score with a short jump shot late in the fourth quarter.
“They did a decent job of denying her position and frustration set in a little bit,” Randle said. “But she came through with some big plays down the stretch, including the one that put us right back in it.”