Lady Firehawks head to CIF Division 6 finals for first time, after defeating Glendale Adventist

Red and black: Winners and losers depicted on the Maxpreps high school sports website, which coincidentally posts in Firehawk colors.

maxpreps.com

Red and black: Winners and losers depicted on the Maxpreps high school sports website, which coincidentally posts in Firehawk colors.

Mati Hurwitz, Sports Editor

For the first time in school history, the Lady Firehawks are heading to the Division 6 CIF Southern Section Finals, after the ninth-seeded girls triumphed 51-38 over 13th-seeded Glendale Adventist March 1 at the Westside JCC.

Time and place of the championship have yet to be finalized, but the girls basketball team under Coach Ronnie “Flava” Winbush is preparing to face No. 2 Valley Christian Academy of Santa Maria. The game will be next Friday or Saturday, March 7 or 8, somewhere in Orange County.

Hundreds of fans from each team piled into the Westside JCC for the semifinal action March 1. Junior star Sigal Spitzer led the way with 20 points while seniors Jennie Drazin and Joelle Edry dominated the glass and the interior.

It was a complete team effort that included perimeter shooting by senior Sharona Sedighim, freshman Liora Rabizadeh and sophomore Nicole Newman, and aggressive defense from freshman Nicole Miles.

“I think that the way we played as a team and trusted each other with the ball [led to this victory],” said Nicole.

Early into the first quarter, Sigal drove to the rim and got hit hard in the face. The crowd gasped but Sigal was helped up. Liora subbed in to sink Sigal’s two free throws and then Sigal returned with even more determination.

By quarter’s end, Sigal had amassed nine points on aggressive drives to the rim. Right after she came back in, Sharona lobbed the ball from the sideline over a defender, into Sigal’s hands, who then powered up to the rim to score.

The two teams traded buckets and the Lady Firehawks trailed 20-18 in the mid-second quarter. Shalhevet comfortably led most of the rest of the game because of a pivotal 13-2 run. This attack was highlighted by a breakaway layup by Sigal and a 21-foot three-pointer by Liora. Jennie and Joelle continued to grab offensive rebounds and help Shalhevet convert second-chance opportunities.

Glendale Adventist relied on star forward Madison Federici. She led Glendale with 20 points, most coming in the first half of play. Madison had a sweet left-hand, was an athletic shot blocker and a ferocious rebounder, and for much of the first half, an unstoppable behemoth.

“Our defense was leading her right into Flava’s living room,” said Nicole, using an expression popular with Coach Winbush.

In the second half, Nicole helped neutralize Madison’s her scoring ability by guarding her one-on-one in Shalhevet’s “box-and-one” defense, an adjustment Coach Flava made from their base 2-3 set.

SMILES: It was a moment to savor for the Firehawk girls basketball team March 1 after defeating Glendale Adventist to win the Division title. Coach Ronnie "Flava" Winbush, at top, joined the post-game celebration.
SMILES: It was a moment to savor for the Firehawk girls basketball team March 1 after defeating Glendale Adventist to win the Division title. Coach Ronnie “Flava” Winbush, at top, joined the post-game celebration.

“When I was given the assignment to guard her, the whole time she was unable to enter the living room,” Nicole said.

As the third quarter began, 16 minutes stood between Shalhevet and a Finals berth. Ball pressure and stifling defense forced an insurmountable number of turnovers, and the Lady Firehawks entered the final quarter with a 40-24 lead, allowing just two points in the third.

The crowd knew the game was over, and Glendale could only trim the lead to as close as 11, four times. The game was never in danger for the Lady Firehawks but there was a little drama when first Jennie fouled out, and then Joelle did as well with more than three minutes left. But the seniors had helped dominate the paint well enough throughout the game that their absence wasn’t crucial down the stretch.

Glendale persistently sent Shalhevet to the free-throw line with their last attempts at would have been a miraculous comeback. It wasn’t a surprise that Sigal closed the game out from the line. As she stretched her point tally to 20, she received vibrant “MVP” chants from the crowd because of her relentless drive and full-on effortful performances game in and game out.

Oddly enough, as the final seconds waned, Shalhevet lacked championship emotion from the bench, and Glendale fans stormed the court in defeat but in support of their team’s accomplishments.

Still, the game ended far differently than it had begun. Before the game tipped off, Shalhevet was assessed a technical foul. Athletic Director Eli Schiff did not set up the scorebook at the scores table 10 minutes prior to tipoff. Because of that, Glendale converted 1 of 2 and vaulted to a 1-0 lead before taking the ball out of bounds, with no half-court tipoff.