Associate Sports Editor
Youth and size converged in a heartbreaking 52-45 loss for La Verne against Occidental in a SCIAC tournament semifinal at Occidental last Friday.
With four players seeing time that tower at 6’0” or more for the Tigers and six of 10 players seeing time for La Verne being underclassmen, the Leopards faced adversity from the opening tip.
“Experience and depth. They have 10 or 11 kids who do a nice job and put the ball on the floor,” head coach Matt Rogers said. “We played three freshman for about 25 minutes each in important roles.”
Facing a five-point deficit with 3:15 remaining in the opening frame, La Verne used a 10-1 run to close out the half with a 28-24 advantage over the SCIAC regular season champions.
“I think everyone, our bench, was into it and we had momentum,” senior guard Ashley Paul said. “We executed well.”
In all three contests against Occidental this year, the Leopards entered halftime with an advantage over the Tigers, but lost in close contests.
“It really is experience and depth in all three games. We’ve had serious injuries to important kids before each game and we’ve been constantly changing our identity before each game,” Rogers said.
To help propel La Verne to the halftime advantage, freshman guard Kelly Kika provided the spark, sinking four three’s in the first half, including one during the momentum-shifting run.
“It was huge, it allowed Emily to get space early on. Kelly is going to be a special player,” Rogers said.
The Leopards extended their lead to nine to open the second frame but could not continue the momentum for long as Oxy cut the lead to one with an 8-0 run that lasted 5:02.
“When we started to not execute our strengths it was not our defense, it was our lack of execution on offense and our inability to get good shots,” senior forward Emily Carrillo said.
Despite the size advantage for the Tigers, Emily Carrillo, another 1,000-point scorer, finished her career strong with 12 points, many of which coming on strong inside moves, as well as four rebounds.
The size and experience took over for Oxy as they managed to take 16 shots from the charity stripe in the half, sinking 12 of them, compared to a 3-4 effort by La Verne.
“They got around and we had to help a lot and our defense reached in and fouled,” Kika said.
The Leopards clawed back, bringing it within six at 1:05 left on a jumper by Carrillo and within four on two foul shots by Kika with 29 seconds remaining.
“We wanted to keep our heads up and know that we were still in the game,” Carrillo said.
“We needed to step up our defense and get a steal and score again because we were down by four,” Kika said.
Regardless of the loss, Rogers was happy with the season and the progress of the team.
“If I have this team for the next 25 years I’ll be a happy coach. They work hard and make me happy to go to work everyday,” Rogers said. “They bring me a lot of joy.”
The Leopards return 12 players from this year’s roster for next year.
Oxy and La Verne finished virtually even from the field on the evening, with the Tigers finishing 16-52 and the Leopards at 16-51.
Kika led all scorers with 17 points, 15 coming from downtown.
Daniel Hargis can be reached at email@example.com.