Sports

Eastside Prep girls fall short in state Division V title game

 

The newcomers to the party nearly got the chance to celebrate. Instead, the Eastside College Prep girls' basketball team returns home with a runner-up trophy.

Kayla Tahaafe scored 12 points and Chacitty Cunningham added 11, but it was La Jolla Country Day beating the Panthers, 40-36, in the CIF State Division V Championships on Friday morning at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.

The little school that could was in its first state title game, while the Torreys -- who sent Candice Wiggins, among others, to Stanford -- captured their fourth state championship.

The Panthers (25-6) lost their first game in the calendar year to a school other than Pinewood, which beat La Jolla in last year's title affair.

Eastside Prep proved it belonged, manhandling the Torreys on the boards. Turnovers proved costly and a couple of crucial misses were difficult to overcome.

The Panthers, winners of nine of their last 11, beat two other teams -- Mitty and Bishop O'Dowd -- which also play for state titles.

Eastside Prep lost to four teams all season, including three times to Pinewood. Those teams have a combined record of 89-30 (.746 winning percentage). Not bad for a team that suited up six players all year.

Destiny Graham, heading for Arizona in the fall, scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds. She had her eye poked with 2:06 remaining in the first quarter and the injury bothered her the rest of the way.

"We needed to take care of the basketball," Panthers' coach Donovan Blythe said. "We needed more movement on the offensive end."

Graham, who scored three times on putbacks, gave Eastside a 29-28 lead with 4:03 left in the third quarter. That was the last time the Panthers were on the right side of the scoreboard.

Torreys' Alaysia Styles, who blocked eight of her team's 11 shots, scored 19 seconds later. Mai-loni Henson, who led La Jolla in scoring, rebounding and assists, added a basket late in the third to send the Torreys into the final period with a 32-29 advantage.

Cunningham hit a 3-pointer midway through the final quarter to tie the game, though the Panthers could not get over the hump.

There nine lead changes and four ties overall in the contest.

In addition to Graham, Cunningham and Brije Byers also graduate. They led Eastside Prep to where no other girls' basketball team at the school has gone before.

It will be up to the three freshmen -- Ra'Anna Bey, Tahaafe and Alayah Bell -- to help the Panthers return to the promised land of the state championships.

The Panthers missed their first five shots but were able to recover and took a 12-10 lead at the final buzzer of the first quarter, thanks to a charitable ruling on Cunningham's 3-pointer.

Eastside Prep had trouble hanging onto the ball, committing 11 turnovers in the first half, although the Panthers, who scored 10 second-chance points, forced the Torreys into nine turnovers.

Neither team led by more than four points and after four lead changes, La Jolla took a 22-20 lead into the intermission. Tahaafe scored with 1:17 left for the Panthers.

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