La Jolla Vikings girls basketball make it to first CIF Finals in 15 years, but fall short of win

Girls Basketball:

Central Union High School Spartans 51, La Jolla High School Vikings 48

By Ed Piper

The La Jolla High School Lady Vikings, not at all star-struck by playing in the CIF Finals at Jenny Craig Pavilion at USD, led by 10 points with minutes to play in the third quarter. But Coach Dave Westhem’s crew couldn’t hold on, dropping a 51-48 decision to Central Union High Spartans of Imperial Valley in Division III March 8.

Sophia Sowers, the senior 3-point specialist with over 200 makes, showed a continuos ferocity to drive down the middle beyond anything she has shown before. And Madeleine Gates, the athletic sophomore center, looked completely suited to the big show from the beginning. She blocked shots and grabbed rebounds as she always does.

Finally, Sierra Westhem, senior forward, has shown an increasing ability to lead as the Vikings have progressed through the playoffs. Her shot wasn’t hitting earlier in the game, but she hit a key two with 5:08 left to put La Jolla in the lead, 39-38.

“This was our plan, to be in the finals,” said her father and head coach Dave Westhem. “The reason I scheduled us so tough this year, playing in the Sweet Sixteen (at Country Day) and against Bishop’s was I knew we had a really good chance to get to the CIF championship.” La Jolla’s last title in girls basketball was in 1987. The Vikings’ last trip to the title game was reportedly in 1998.

La Jolla (19-12), playing before a supportive set of fans dwarfed by the roomy college arena, outscored Central 13-2 starting the third quarter — the same kind of burst that won them the quarterfinal game at Fallbrook eight days before. Gates drove for two and Sowers drove for back-to-back baskets, forcing Central coach Jason McClain to call timeout. Gates blocked a Charlene Charles shot inside, and helped Jenna Harmeyer force a turnover on the press, before Sowers again scored on a driving layup to put the Vikings up 32-27.

Harmeyer gave La Jolla a seven-point lead, and then Madeleine Gates took a pass from Sierra Westhem to score inside to go up by nine, 36-27 with 3:12 left in the quarter. A Sowers free-throw increased the lead to 37-27.

But the Vikings couldn’t quite give Sierra Westhem a CIF championship on her 18th birthday. Central (23-5) junior Nettie Williams, who averages 15 points a game, looked gassed and out of it in the third quarter. Then she recovered to hit three, killer three’s in the fourth quarter, finishing with a game-high 22 points. Charles, a senior averaging 13.5 points per game, busted back-to-back baskets, the second off of a steal on the press to bring the Spartans back within two at 37-35 with 5:55 to play in the game. They went up on Williams’ three, 41-39. The tension was palpable.

The three referees had to hold a midcourt conference with 4:44 left after a driving layup by Sowers. First, it was ruled no basket and called back. Then, after conferring for a minute or two, the officials restored the bucket, knotting the score at 41 apiece. The Central rooting section was distraught. This would have seemed to be a momentum killer.

Down by three, Sowers bombed a three that didn’t even touch the rim, tying the score again, 46-46, with 2:43 on the clock. But several errant shots later, and Williams hitting both ends of a clutch one-and-one free throw situation, and Central was up by five, 51-46, with 15.2 seconds left.

Before the game, Sowers said the Vikings’ plan was to “play hard and stay within ourselves and trust each other and play smart.” It was very effective.

It was a festive mood right up to the end. Members of the La Jolla community were visibly enjoying the chance for one of their teams to play in the section finals. Some student body members attended, along with ardent family members of players.

■ GAME STATS – SCORING: La Jolla High (48): Sowers FG 8-21 FT 3-4 20, Gates FG 5-9 FT 3-3 13, Westhem FG 4-16 FT 0-1 8, Polcyn FG 2-4 FT 0-0 5, Harmeyer FG 1-4 FT 0-0 2, Tarjan FG 0-0 FT 0-0 0, Satori Roberson FG 0-2 FT 0-0 0. Central Union High (51): Williams 22, Magin 12, Charles 11, Rabb 4, McClain 2, Abdelmuti 0, Cardenas 0, Salgado 0, Egbers 0. REBOUNDS: Gates 20, Westhem 3, Polcyn 3, Tarjan 3, Sowers 2, Satori Roberson 2, Harmeyer 1. ASSISTS: Harmeyer 3, Sowers 2, Westhem 2, Gates 2, Tarjan 2. BLOCKS: Gates 4, Westhem 1. STEALS: Westhem 2, Gates 2, Harmeyer 1, Tarjan 1.