First published in the March 24 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.
By Nathan Cambridge
The La Salle High girls’ basketball team opened the season with a win back on November 18, 2021. Some 113 days later, the Lancers would play their 34th and final game of the campaign in the state capital. It was win or lose and go home for La Salle. The question was just whether would it be with the CIF State title as the Lancers matched up with Oakland Tech for the CIF Division III championship.
After La Salle stayed in control through the first half, Oakland Tech flipped the script in the second half, allowing the Bulldogs to forge a 39-33 victory in the CIF Division III State title game at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on the afternoon of March 11, sending the Lancers home as the runners-up.
“We came out and did a great job of handling the ball, dealing with their pressure, getting quality shots and rebounding the basketball,” La Salle coach Scott Wiard said. “It’s a big court and our kids play a lot of minutes every game. [Oakland Tech] wore us down a little bit, and that is a credit to them for keeping the pressure up and not backing off us.”
The loss snapped the Lancers’ 23-game win streak, which had been the longest active streak in the state. The win pushes Oakland Tech (21-11) to 4-0 in state title games all-time.
“Playing in an NBA arena, not many people get to do that,” Wiard said. “Getting to go on the bus the day before and take in everything that goes with the state championship, the kids made lifelong memories. Obviously, you’d like to win the last one, but they are going to remember that game and that trip for a long time.”
La Salle (31-3) led for the vast majority of the game, until the Bulldogs surged ahead late in the third quarter. The Lancers, the bracket’s top seed, trailed by six twice in the fourth period before mounting a charge. They trailed 32-26 near the halfway mark of the period, when Lancer Audrey Chen scored on a putback. La Salle stole the ball right back and Chen scored again with two successful free throws to pull within one, only to see the Bulldogs answer with a deuce the next time down the floor.
With less than two minutes remaining, La Salle cut the deficit back to one when Reese Wong dished an assist to Audrey Chen on a back cut to make it 34-33. The Bulldogs kept the door open by missing two free throws on their ensuing possession. La Salle then went for the lead with an attempt from well beyond the arc, but missed. Oakland Tech did not as Bulldog Mari Somvichian delivered the dagger by draining a three-pointer from the corner at the other end. Oakland Tech then stole the ball back and Erin Sellers made a layup as time expired to set the final margin.
The Lancers had been thrown a curveball before the game started when they lost starter Ellie Chen to a knee injury in warmups. The junior was the squad’s leading three-point shooter and, in her absence, La Salle did not make a basket from beyond the arc in the final.
“When you are expecting her to start, and be a major part of the game plan, to have that taken away from our team was hard,” Wiard said. “Your heart breaks for Ellie. She worked so hard to be part of our program this year coming off multiple injuries. For her to be taken away like that in pregame, it hurts.”
La Salle, which won the school’s first CIF-Southern Section crown this season, had owned the first half. The Lancers took their first lead of the game with 4:47 left in the first on a lay-up and free throw by Audrey Chen. La Salle would win the opening period 11-5 by handling the Bulldog defensive pressure and keeping the pace slow.
The Lancer lead peaked at eight when Audrey Chen scored inside to open the second quarter. The Bulldogs made it 19-16 at break with a bucket at the buzzer. The Bulldogs ratcheted up the pressure in the second half, but La Salle held the advantage until the final minute of the third, when Oakland Tech stole the ball away three times as part of an 8-0 run to take a 29-25 lead into the final period.
Audrey Chen led the Lancers in scoring with a game-high 13 points. Ryann Riddle had 10 points and was the only player to score in all four quarters. Kaden Cortes scored six and Wong four. Oakland Tech was paced by Sellers with 11.
“There is a lot of pride. It was an unbelievable season,” Wiard, whose team set the school record for wins along the way, said. “I’m proud of all the work they put in and all the accomplishments.”