PASADENA — For a fifth straight year, the Pasadena Poly girls’ basketball team earned a Prep League championship.
Yet, unlike previous seasons, the Panthers faced a stern challenge in the post-Michelle Miller era and were pushed to the edge by upstart Flintridge Prep before emerging with a 50-44 home victory Saturday afternoon that clinched the program a share of the championship.
Poly (17-5 overall, 10-0 in league), which has now won 37 straight league games, held a tenuous 46-42 lead with 1:33 remaining in the game after a free throw from Rebels junior guard Maya Okamoto when Weber Hall called a time out.
Out of the break, the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA fourth-ranked Rebels (15-6, 8-2) tightened the screws when senior guard Grace Cha stole possession at the Panthers’ three-point line and raced for an uncontested layup with 59 seconds left that brought Flintridge Prep within 46-44.
Yet, seemingly every time the Rebels challenged, Panthers sophomore guard Kiki Yang delivered a response, as she did when she drove through the paint and was fouled by Lacy Coan (nine points and 10 rebounds) with 42.5 seconds left.
Yang sank two free throws to put the Panthers up, 48-44.
She then guarded Okamoto and helped pressure the junior into a key double-dribble turnover with 34.1 seconds left.
Off the turnover, Yang took the inbounds pass and danced in the backcourt, draining time until eventually three Rebels surrounded the point guard and fouled her with 11.5 seconds remaining.
Yang, who finished with a game-high 22 points and four steals, iced the contest with two free throws.
“We know just how talented and tough Kiki is,” Rebels Coach Kevin Kiyomura said. “She made the big shots for her team.”
Okamota (19 points) tied the game at 28 with a three-pointer off an assist from Tala Ismail at the 6:32 mark in the third, when Yang quickly stormed downcourt and found teammate Courtney Foster (11 points), who was fouled and made two free throws.
While Poly later went up, 35-31, on a three-pointer from Yang with 4:01 left, the Rebels again surged to tie with an inside bucket from Ismail followed by a jumper from Okamota with 2:35 left in the third.
Yang answered again when she drained a step-back jumper that gave the Panthers a 37-35 lead and was the start of an 8-0 run in which Poly led, 43-35, with 7:11 left in the fourth after a layup from Foster, who was assisted by Yang.
“I wasn’t looking to take big shots, I was playing with the flow,” said Yang, the Panthers’ No. 2 option last year behind the Southern Section’s second all-time leading scorer in Miller. “Our coach helped encouraged us by telling us that we don’t have Michelle and that we’re going to have to win this ourselves.”
Forward Kaitlyn Olah finished with 14 points and eight rebounds for the Panthers.
“We finally believed in our identity, in who we are and what we’ve been doing all season,” Kiyomura said of how his team was able to push Poly. “I think that’s why we could challenge them. We’ll get them again next week and see what happens.”