The week started with “Beauty and the Beast,” the flick followed by a lot of laughs and team-bonding seasonal reflection in place of a rained-out miniature golf session.
And the week ended for the McClatchy Lions girls basketball team with the title of that movie symbolic of Friday night’s CIF State Division I championship game.
The beauty was in how McClatchy competed and hustled on defense.
That was the shooting. Shots curled out, rimmed out, clanged off all directions or missed completely as if the cavernous confines of Golden 1 Center swallowed up the offense.
Windward of Los Angeles used a 12-0 run to seize control after the Lions pulled to within 34-32 with 6:10 to play on a Richelle Turney jumper en route to a 53-41 triumph, dampening what had been another terrific march to the season’s final day.
McClatchy (31-5) wasn’t able to win its second D-I title in three seasons, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. The Lions never fall short in that department, regardless of who the coach is, be it Harvey Tahara last decade, or Jessica Kunisaki in recent seasons, or Jeff Ota now, the 1970s Lions star and longtime coach with the girls and boys programs.
But Windward, the private-school powerhouse coached by former Stanford star and WNBA player Vanessa Nygaard, found success on inside plays, runners and jumpers and had fresher legs in the fourth quarter and stronger rebounders inside.
A 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, Charisma Osborne dazzled with ballhandling and a variety of moves, scoring 26 points. She already looks the part of national recruit with offers from across the country.
“That’s the best guard we’ve played,” Ota said. “Our thing is getting turnovers and creating havoc. We couldn’t get enough.”
McClatchy made 30 percent of its shots and had one player reach double figures in scoring. Four-year starter Jordan Cruz had 11 points in her farewell as she readies for a scholarship tour at Utah. The Lions even struggled from the line, making just 12 of 23 in being held to a season-low point total.
“It’s frustrating because we couldn’t score, and if we had better ball movement, maybe we might’ve had a better chance,” Cruz said.
A moment later, sophomore Kamryn Hall, a versatile guard, expressed regret for not helping the seniors bow out with a title, shouldering blame. Her senior teammates, including Courtesy Clark, KaMaree Donald and Sara Shimizu, wouldn’t hear of it. Neither would Ota, who stressed, “We’re one of two Division I teams left in the state. I know you’re sad, but I don’t think this was a disappointment at all. It’ll hurt today though.”
Added Cruz, addressing the team, “No one let us down. I’m proud of how far we made it and getting to know all of you players as people.”
Ota’s calm is the opposite of how his team performs, though he did step out of character this season. He produced a hilarious one-minute video on the eve of the Northern California playoffs to inspire his team. He wore a player jersey, sang, skipped rope and danced. In other words, everyone did their part to get here.
“It’s a special place,” Ota said of a school that opened in 1938 and reflects the community with diversity while also holding steady over the decades as an academic powerhouse. “There’s not a better high school in the area. I wouldn’t want to coach anywhere else.”