The Mark Keppel Lady Aztecs are used to big stages. Their experience and talent were on full display as they took care of business in the first three rounds of the CIF playoffs. However, the Lady Aztecs finally met their match as Redondo Union held on for a 53-36 win on Saturday night.
As the number two-ranked team in the division, it was to be expected that the Lady Sea Hawks would have the athleticism and size to match up with the Lady Aztecs. However, self-inflicted wounds from the get-go allowed Redondo Union to take a 13-0 lead, a lead that proved to be too much to overcome for Mark Keppel.
“Our shots weren’t falling; we missed four straight layups and two free throws. You make those and you’re in it,” says Head Coach Jose Herrera. “I had to tell the girls to stay in the moment.”
The girls were able to find their groove as a pair of layups by sophomore guard Patricia Chung brought the game within nine points at the end of the first quarter. Chung and senior Sally Smith’s ability to score off the drive helped the Lady Aztecs narrow the deficit, but the Lady Sea Hawks were able to counter with their height and defense to maintain their nine point lead at the end of the first half.
The second half saw a similar trend, as the Lady Sea Hawks continued to overpower the Lady Aztecs on the boards and dominate the game with second-chance points. “Credit to Redondo [Union]. They executed their game plan and they kept pounding it and pounding it and they pounded us to death,” says Coach Herrera.
Despite the physical mismatch, the Lady Aztecs did not give up as they continued to fight until the game’s final moments. They were able to bring the lead down to seven points with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, but as was the case for the entire game, the Lady Sea Hawks had a response for every run the Lady Aztecs made. Redondo Union’s defense forced an excessive number of turnovers and when they were unable to pound the ball inside, their outside shots kept falling. This ultimately helped them pull away and secure their 53-36 win.
“You really can’t do anything about situations like this. For us, we were willing to give up the outside shot to try and match up with their height down low, but when you are shooting the ball at as a high of a percentage as they were, there’s really nothing you can do except to try and weather the storm and hope your girls can match up basket for basket,” says Coach Jose Herrera.
Outside of the 13-0 run at the beginning of the game, the Lady Aztecs nearly outscored the Lady Sea Hawks for the rest of the game. Had they not fallen into that deep of a hole, the game may have played out differently.
While the loss stings for the Lady Aztecs, Coach Herrera saw this loss as a teaching moment for his team. “For me as a coach, it always breaks my heart because I really wanted this for them, but this is a life lesson for my girls. Nothing is given to you, everything has to be earned. So the next step is to see how they respond; are they just going to take it or use it as motivation to make some more memories in the state playoffs?” says Coach Herrera.
Redondo Union had rebounding, shooting and defense going for them, but if there was one driving force that propelled them to victory, it was their game plan. Their defense took away Keppel’s primary offensive attack, forcing the Lady Aztecs to adjust. However, this brought out one of the bright spots in the game for Keppel as they were able to take what was given to them and adjust accordingly. “We implemented a brand new set play, and [the girls] picked it up right away and executed it. So, it is not only another thing that we can add to our arsenal, but it is good to know that we are able to adjust to new things on the fly,” says Coach Herrera.
With the CIF state playoffs coming up, the Lady Aztecs now have to move past the tough loss and prepare for the competition that they will face there. Yet, the bright spots from this game are certainly points that the team can use as the basis of their preparation, and the loss is one that the girls will be more than ready to avenge in the state playoffs.