It’s another silver medal for the Lady Jaguars basketball team after a heartbreaking 60-48 loss to Mt. San Jacinto College in the conference championship game.
Head coach Darnell Cherry said he was disappointed, but saw a silver lining.
“San Jacinto is a good team,” he said. “They were a state championship team last year, so we knew it was going to be a tough battle coming in and trying to get a win. But you know, I’m proud our squad played hard. They fought until the end. It was a good game.”
It was another sterling season for the Lady Jags, who racked up a shiny 19-8 overall record and 11-3 in conference, but also the third consecutive year they have been bridesmaids in the Pacific Coast Conference.
In the title contest, referees called a tight game as each team had 11 first half fouls. Southwestern struggled from the free-throw line all day, shooting 13-30, but trailed by only two at halftime, 21-19.
In the second half it began to unravel for the Lady Jags. They allowed Mt. San Jacinto to get second chances on offense for easy layups, falling behind 35-26 six minutes into the half. SWC was outrebounded 54-34 on the day and only tallied two team assists, well short of their season average 11.
Offensively, the ball would just not go in. Sophomore guard Gabby Robledo finished second in the PCAC in three-pointers per game and free throw percentage, but she made just 5 of 11 from the line and 2 of 10 from three-point range.
SWC shot just 23 percent from the floor and racked up 10 team fouls with five minutes remaining. Three key players fouled out, including sophomore guard Cardedra Evans, freshman forward Brianna Davis and freshman forward Tia Griffs.
With two minutes left, the Mt. San Jacinto lead was cut to 52-44, but comeback chances disintegrated after three technical fouls on one play. A foul call in front of the team bench caused a frustrated Cherry to call for a timeout when the team had none remaining. He was whistled for a technical foul. Frustration boiled over, as Cherry and assistant coach Christian Brodt were each called with additional technical fouls.
Mt. San Jacinto held on to win 60-48, sinking 19 of 29 free throw attempts for the game.
Cherry did not blame the fouls for the loss.
“You can’t control the officials,” he said. “You just have to go out and play. That’s pretty much where it’s at. We’re going to fight for our players regardless.”
A Slow Start
The loss was a microcosm of an up-and-down season.
After starting 8-6, the Lady Jags rattled off seven straight wins to move into the thick of the PCAC race.
Evans said teamwork was the key.
“Once we started sharing the ball and getting everyone involved, everything started coming together,” she said.
Defense was the staple of this team, suffocating opponents. The Lady Jags averaged 22 forced turnovers a game, best in the conference and 10th in the state. They were even better at avoiding turnovers, finishing second in the state with 12 per game.
Mt. San Jacinto: Take One
With an epic comeback in their first matchup against Mt. San Jacinto, the Lady Jags stormed into first place.
Robledo’s hot hand brought the Lady Jags within 4 points at 41-37. A furious fight to the finish ensued.
Trailing 38-27 the Lady Jags needed a spark. Robledo lit the fuse. She scored 10 straight points in a two-minute span, bringing the Lady Jags to life and the home crowd to its feet.
“I was having an off day and just needed to put it behind me,” she said. “We needed someone to step up, so as a leader and a captain, I thought I should be the one to put something together for us.”
Sophomore guard Alexis Harris gave the Lady Jags the lead with a three-pointer from the corner with three minutes remaining. Mt. San Jacinto however, responded with a three, knotting the game at 50-50 with two minutes left.
With one minute remaining and the game tied at 54, Robledo found an opening with her signature step back move and drained a three-pointer to put the Lady Jags ahead for good.
Mt. San Jacinto was left in a stunned silence as SWC held on for a thrilling 59-54 victory over the defending state champions.
Robledo finished with 21 points, including four three-pointers. Harris also pitched in with 15 points and Ward contributed 14 points as the three guards scored all but nine of their team’s points.
Ward said the players found themselves in the victory.
“We had our heads down in the beginning, but our heart came back in the situation and we pulled away, with the grace of God,” she said.
A slip up against San Diego City College cost the Lady Jags’ sole possession of first place, but after clutch victories over Grossmont and Palomar College, Cherry said they were determined.
“We play every game with a sense of urgency,” Cherry said. “But when we lose it seems like it’s more heightened in practice and those things. So it shows that they have that intestinal fortitude.”
The Lady Jags entered the championship game with confidence, Cherry said, tied for first and on a four-game winning streak. Mt. San Jacinto won the rematch though, and a Cinderella season struck midnight.
Cherry said it was a rewarding journey.
“It’s been a little difficult just because of the different personalities, but I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s a really good group of girls to work with and winning always helps, too.”