BURBANK — Providence High had won eight of the last nine Liberty League titles in girls’ basketball, but this season everything changed when the Pioneers moved to the Prep League.
Providence would now have to deal with Flintridge Prep, the powerhouse of the league, which has won the last five titles.
In Providence’s first encounter in Prep League play with the Rebels, the Pioneers stayed close in the first half, but in the second half Flintridge Prep pushed the pace and ran away with a dominant 72-44 win on Tuesday.
“We picked up our defense [in the second half] and stuck to our game plan and kind of figured it out,” Rebel co-coach Kevin Kiyomura said.
The victory means Flintridge Prep (19-2, 10-0 in league) has now won at least a share of the league championship. If they win one of their final two games, the second of which is hosting the same Pioneers, the title will be theirs outright.
“It feels good for us [to secure a piece of the title],” Rebels Kaitlyn Chen said. “It’s a tradition we hope to keep building upon and take it to the highest possible place we can.”
Chen tormented Providence (14-10, 6-3) throughout to the tune of a game-high 32 points. The junior consistently found her way to the basket, demonstrating tremendous body control to avoid contact and get a wide repertoire of shots up and in. Chen, the reigning league most valuable player and All-Area Player of the Year, was especially potent in the second half, scoring 22 points, which was two more than the Pioneers managed after the break.
It was not only Chen who found another gear in the final two quarters, but the whole team. Flintridge Prep, ranked No. 6 in the CIF Southern Section Division II-A, held just a one-point advantage at halftime, 25-24, before the visitors won the third quarter, 24-11, and the final stanza, 23-9.
Throughout the third quarter, the Rebels slowly stoked their advantage. Flintridge Prep had managed no more than a five-point lead in the first half, but with just over two minutes left in the third the Rebels posted their first double-digit lead when Sofia Gonzalez rebounded her own missed shot and scored, making it 41-31.
After that the teams exchanged missed shots before Pioneer Jyah LoVett plowed into the lane, getting in a tangle and being fouled by Rebels Andie Kim. LoVett disengaged with Kim with notable force sending her to the court and drawing a technical foul.
Chen sank both of the technical foul free throws as part of her 14 points in the quarter, which was three more than the hosts. Lovett had eight of those as part of her team-high 22 points. The only other Pioneer in double digits was senior Ariel Gordillo with 13.
“We have resilience,” Kiyomura said. “We can have some tough quarters and then bounce back. The third quarter has been pretty good to us.”
The fourth quarter opened with a 12-2 run by the Rebels. Chen had six of those as part of her eight points in the final frame. It was in the fourth that Gonzalez seemed to find another gear. The sophomore poured in 11 of her 20 points to outscore the Pioneers single-handedly by two.
Freshman Ashlyn Zhang was the third and final Rebel to score in double digits with 12 points. She was especially important in the second quarter, where the Pioneers, ranked No. 7 in Division IV-AA, outdid the visitors, 15-12.
Flintridge Prep led, 13-9, after the first, but Providence came out hot to start the second. The Pioneers scored the first 12 points of the quarter to take a 21-13 lead.
Lovett banked in her third three of the quarter, and fourth of the first half, for a 24-17 advantage. However, after that Flintridge Prep scored the last eight points of the second to go into the break up one. Six of those points in the closing burst came from Zhang.
“The last three minutes [of the first half] you could see we were really tired,” Providence coach Andrew Bencze said. “They got a little 8-0 run to get the lead and that seemed to get Flintridge Prep going … The second half we didn’t take care of the ball.”
The teams will play again Monday.
“It is important to stay focused the whole game,” Chen said. “We can’t just pick it up in the second half like we did. We know the next time we play them they are going to come out strong again, so we need to just put our foot on the pedal [from the start.]”