Grady Lee Thomas
To earn a postseason berth, the women’s basketball team needed all four quarters plus overtime to defeat Redlands, 78-77, on a game winning layup by senior forward Emily Carrillo.
Head coach Matt Rogers used a solid game plan and a lot of Leopards to take down the Bulldogs in the season finale.
Similar to its entire season, which was hampered by injury and adversity, the Leopards were able to fend off a hungry Redlands team with the help of its seniors, guard Ashley Paul, guard Mayra Dueñas, forward Nicole Wandler and Carrillo.
All of who have been major members of the Leopards success this season.
“I feel proud of our kids and elated for our seniors,” Rogers said. “They played great and everything we’ve done this year is because of them.”
“Our season was so tumultuous with sickness and multiple injuries, so for me it wasn’t about wins and losses, it was about their attitude and owning the season and without a doubt, this was theirs. I’m really happy for them because they made it theirs tonight,” Rogers said.
The Leopards trailed 69-65 with less than one minute remaining in regulation, but were able to play stifling full court defense and get an easy layup by freshman guard Kelly Kika off of a Redlands turnover with 30 seconds on the clock.
On Redlands’ ensuing possession, La Verne’s quality defense and boxing out assured a pivotal defensive rebound by Paul that gave the Leopards one last chance to come back.
La Verne was able to overcome a late Redlands surge that resulted in a 14-6 run to close out the final five minutes of regulation and tie the game, 69-69.
After a timeout and some game planning, it was evident that the Leopards had much more fight in them than Redlands anticipated.
With time running down and one last possession, the ULV inbound pass went to Carrillo, who seized the opportunity and hit a clutch turn-around 8-foot jumper reminiscent of Kobe Bryant at Staples Center with the game on the line.
“It feels great to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season, because it makes all of the hard work and sacrifice worth it,” Carrillo said.
In overtime, La Verne again opted to save its fireworks for the very end of the game. After exchanging baskets the opening minutes of overtime, the Leopards found themselves trailing Redlands, 77-76, with 13 seconds remaining.
After hitting the jump shot to send the Leopards to overtime, Carrillo was again summoned to create something and she did just that.
After a smooth dribble drive, Carrillo found her way to the rim and made the most of it, converting a layup in the lane and giving the Leopards the go ahead bucket and in doing so scoring a career high 29 points, while having one of the best individual performances in ULV history.
“Toward the end of the year we stepped it up and tonight showed it,” Paul said.
“The scene in the locker room after the game was amazing. Everyone was screaming, chanting and jumping around. Our coach brought his daughter in and it was an amazing feeling for us all to share.”
“It was an intense atmosphere in the overtime, I’m glad we did not panic,” sophomore guard Amanda Copas said. “I feel we are really ready for the postseason. We’ve come together as a team and I think we are on to something good.”
La Verne plays in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference semifinals against top-seeded Occidental at 5 p.m. Friday in Eagle Rock.
Grady Lee Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.