LA CAÑADA — It was the competitiveness of the Prep League that both nearly took away and created a golden opportunity for the Flintridge Prep girls’ basketball team Wednesday afternoon.
With a chance to clinch a share of the program’s first league title since 2008, the Rebels held off a strong challenge from feisty Westridge in a 53-38 victory on senior night in the regular season finale.
“We’re so ecstatic,” Rebels co-Coach Jayme Kiyomura-Chan said. “What we talked about in the locker room is that this was a crescendo over the course of the last two years. We couldn’t have done this without what we accomplished last year. This has been a growing process and I’m so proud of these girls.”
Because of the win, CIF Southern Section Division IV-A 10th-ranked Flintridge Prep (17-4 overall, 10-2 in league) takes a half-game lead over five-time reigning league champion Pasadena Poly (16-7, 9-2), which closes out its season Thursday at Chadwick.
Should the Panthers lose, then the Rebels would clinch the title outright.
It was a Poly 53-44 upset loss at Mayfield on Tuesday that opened the door for the Rebels, who seemed to have a manageable opponent in visiting Westridge (5-12, 3-9).
However, the Tigers played well above their record and recovered from a 27-18 deficit early in the third quarter with a 12-2 run capped by an offensive rebound and put back from 6-foot-1 senior center Carmen Costa (seven points, 17 rebounds and three blocks) with 1:01 remaining, which both put the Tigers ahead, 30-29, and led to a Rebels’ timeout.
“I thought we took a lot of quick shots, I thought we took a lot of outside shoots,” Rebels co-Coach Kevin Kiyomura said. “That gave Westridge more opportunities to score and get back into the game. We got good stops, but when you have to come up with stop after stop after stop and you can’t hit a basket, it’s tough.”
While Wednesday was senior night, the Rebels turned to freshman Taylor Yoshida to put them back on track.
The guard delivered, first putting Flintridge Prep ahead, 32-30, at the close of three quarters with a triple from near the home bench that was set up on an assist from a slashing Lacy Coan.
Yoshida (10 points and three steals) then drained a three-pointer to open the fourth quarter created off an assist from senior Maya Okamoto, which put the Rebels ahead, 35-30.
“Every time before every game, all we talk about is team, team, team,” Kiyomura said. “Every game somebody different steps up. It just happened to be Tay’s game today and she was confident to take the shot and I’m glad she was because they went in.”
Westridge countered with a three-pointer from Erin Golden (11 points) on its next possession to close within two points.
Yet, Flintridge Prep responded with a three-pointer from Okamoto (seven points, five assists and five assists) followed by one of two free throws from Renae Tamura (12 points and three steals) to go up, 39-33.
The four points were part of a game-clinching 10-0 run from the Rebels that included two steals from Okamoto and a steal from Tamura that accounted for six points and pushed Flintridge Prep ahead, 45-33, with 4:16 left.
The Tigers never pulled any closer than nine points and, in fact, fell behind, 49-36, with 1:18 remaining due in part to ball-handling difficulties and a pressing Rebels defense that forced 30 turnovers.
Tala Ismail added 12 points, seven rebounds and six steals for Flintridge Prep, whose championship squad included Megan Mittelberg, Tyler Faulkner, Natalie Benn, Cady Deck, Natalie Rozman and Ani Pridjian.
“We work really hard and just show up to do our best every game,” Okamoto said. “We were crushed after our bad [56-51 loss to Rio Hondo Prep on Jan. 30] because we thought it was over. Once we knew we had a chance last night to win this, we finished strong.”