Lynwood and Bonita exchanged leads eight times in the first half, but the final 16 minutes belonged to the Lady Knights who pulled away to a determined and convincing 60-47 win on the Bearcats’ home court behind Alize Lofton’s game-high 24 points.
Although the loss knocked Bonita out of a trip to the finals, Bearcats coach Darren Baumunk said he couldn’t be prouder of his team, who surprised lots of local basketball cognoscenti going 25-6 before bowing out in the semis.
“That’s a great team we just played, best team we’ve played all year,” Baumunk said. “I don’t know many people who picked us to be in the spot we were in. I’m proud of our girls. I’m proud of the way we played. I’m proud of the way we handled ourselves in the playoffs. We could have come out and died once it got hard in that third quarter but we fought hard until the end of the game.”
At the start of the game, it was the Bearcats that put the Lady Knights on their heels. After falling behind 5-0, Bonita reeled off six straight points to take a 6-5 lead. Cassie Martinez started the scoring for Bonita. The Bearcats fell behind 13-10 in the period, but Ariana Abo got the Bearcats even with a trey. Then Bonita completed a 7-0 run to finish the quarter leading 17-13.
Baumunk thought his team should have had an even bigger lead.
“We didn’t make some free throws early, we missed a couple of layups early on, and against a great team like Lynwood — an athletic team like Lynwood — you’ve got to make them to stay in the game.”
Indeed, Lynwood clawed back to reclaim the lead 23-22 late in the second quarter before Abo answered with a three to Bonita back up, 25-23. Lynwood’s Jazmine Johnson stole the ball for easy layup to knot the score 25-25. Then Lynwood scored the quarter’s final three points on a free throw by Lofton and another bucket by Johnson to enter the locker room leading 28-25.
Making matters worse, Wheatley picked up her third foul right before the first half ended.
Barely into the third period, Wheatley, who led Bonita with 23 points, picked up her fourth foul. Like seeing blood in the water, Lynwood went right after Wheatley trying to take her out of the game.
“We were going to keep her in no matter what,” Baumunk said. Wheatley never did pick up her fifth foul, but there was no question she had to dial back her defense, which opened up more shots and second chances for the Lady Knights.
Even if Wheatley hadn’t been handcuffed nearly the entire second half, Bonita still faced a huge task of trying to defeat an athletic and balanced Lynwood squad, who had four starters score in double figures. Besides Lofton’s 24, Amber Blockmon chipped in with 12 and Jazin Johnson and Nijala Johnson had 11 apiece.
“We needed everything to go our way,” Baumunk.
And things clearly didn’t. Foul trouble, missed easy buckets, and free throws that rattled out conspired against Bonita this time.
“We didn’t make as many shots as we had hoped,” Baumunk said, sounding surprisingly upbeat despite coming so close to punching a ticket for the finals.
Perhaps, he knows he’s getting four of his five starters back next season.
“We had a great run,” Baumunk said, “and we expect to get back to this spot again next year, and win it all.”