Before their CIF state regional final meeting against Marlborough, Inglewood coach Tony Scott gave his team a simple message – Make history.
The message was delivered loud and clear as the Sentinels advanced to their first state final after a 74-57 victory over Marlborough in the Southern California Division III state regional finals.
It gave the Sentinels their first-ever CIF basketball championship of any kind but it came almost as a surprise to Scott who didn’t have the regional title on his team’s list of preseason goals.
“Before the season we had three goals. An Ocean League title, CIF and state title,” Scott said as his team laughed, “I completely forgot about a regional title but we’ll take it.”
It was a different Inglewood team than the one that looked overwhelmed by Foothill in the CIF Division III-AA finals and had their worst first half of the season (13 points). After that emotional loss, Scott showed them pictures of their faces after last year’s quarterfinal loss to Redondo,
“That day, we said never again” Scott said, referring to the team leaving the floor with a championship. “We met that challenge today.”
Despite facing a Marlborough team with a rich basketball tradition – six consecutive CIF titles and two McDonald’s All-Americans before this season – they came out aggressive from the start as the Sentinels opened with a 7-0 run and forced turnovers on Marlborough’s first two possessions.
By the end of the first quarter, Marlborough had five turnovers and had as many rebounds as Sentinels forward Taylor Champion (seven) yet they were only down 18-15.
That would be close as they got as Inglewood went on a 32-18 run over the next two quarters thanks to balanced scoring and their swarming defense that held the Mustangs to 25.8 percent shooting (8-for-31) by the end of the third quarter.
In total, the Sentinels forced 22 turnovers which led to 24 points. They also out-rebounded Marlborough 51-30, limited the Mustangs to only five offensive rebounds, and finished with more assists 14-3
“You can’t win a ball game like that,” Marlborough coach Trenton Jackson said, crediting Inglewood’s defense for most of their woes.
Foul trouble hampered the Mustangs down the stretch as guards Taylor Ball and Stefanie Corgel fouled out in the fourth, leaving the team without their primary ball-handler and shooter.
Cal-bound senior Talia Caldwell finished with 24 points – 17 in the second half – and seven rebounds. She and Sentinels point guard Hazel Ramirez set a Southern California Div. III regional record with 10 made free throws.
Ramirez (14 points) had no trouble finding her teammates as she finished with seven assists. Senior forward Makeda Beadle led the Sentinels with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Renee Golliday had 14 points and eight rebounds.
“The further we go, the more we grow as a team,” Beadle said.
Champion, who had a poor game against Foothill, finished with eight points and a team-high 13 rebounds. Her aggressive play has carried the Sentinels throughout the regionals and she attributed it to becoming focused, better preparation and a slight change in her schedule.
“I started going to bed early,” Champion said, as her step-father, Scott, chimed in by saying she did it on her own, not by his suggestion.
It’ll be a tougher challenge for Inglewood in the state championship at Sacramento’s Arco Arena as they’ll face St. Mary’s (Stockton) who defeated Sacred Heart Cathedral 62-60 in the Northern California Division III final and are ranked No. 2 in the Cal-Hi Sports Top 20 rankings.
“Our D never takes a day off so we’re just gonna play, roll the dice and see what happens,” Scott said. “This is unchartered waters for us and it still hasn’t sunk that we are this close to winning state.”