Jummel Hidrosollo / Special to the Home News
Friday, Feb. 20, 2009 | 10:54 p.m.
Centennial took a major step Friday to regaining the upper hand in a nearly decade-long girls' basketball rivalry with Bishop Gorman.
The Bulldogs topped the Gaels 74-60 in the Sunset Region championship at Palo Verde, securing a spot in the four-team state championship tournament at the Orleans Arena next week. Gorman now must defeat the loser of the Sunrise Region championship during a play-in game Monday for the right to join Centennial at state.
Both Centennial and Gorman have combined to win the last seven state championships, with Centennial winning four straight from 2002-05 and Gorman capturing the last three. A year ago, it was Gorman who eliminated Centennial from the postseason with a win in the Sunset Region title game.
But the Bulldogs refused to let that happen for a second straight season.
"We've worked hard for this pretty much since the last time we lost to Gorman," Centennial forward Johnna Brown said. "Everyone thought of that the whole time we were playing. It's a good feeling, being a senior and going to state."
Centennial fans, particularly students, packed the home side of Palo Verde's gym, many wearing face paint and shaking pom-poms. Sensing a win against the defending champions, Centennial fans cheered loudly during each Bulldog bucket.
After the victory, Centennial players made a bee-line for to join their peers court-side to revel in the moment.Centennial coach Karen Weitz called it the best show of fan support for girls basketball since the school opened.
"The first year we won state, we only had probably 20 people there and that was our parents," Weitz said. "In the huddle today, our coaching staff was saying to look at the stands. I think they fed off it."
Both teams played even until midway through the second quarter when Centennial went on a 15-4 run to end the half and take a 35-22 advantage into the intermission. The run would ultimately be the difference in the game as the teams mostly exchanged buckets the rest of the way.
Alexis Byrd and Deanna Daniels led Centennial with 18 points each, while Brown chipped in 17.
"This is good but I'm not satisfied," Daniels said. "I want the one that counts, the one that means we're state champions. We know we're the best team. If we just bring it at state, everything will fall into place."
Yahindra Edwards led Gorman with 16 points, while Chelsie Pitt and Dannielle Diamant scored 14 and 12, respectively.
Gorman coach Sheryl Krmpotich said was disappointed in her team's shooting performance.
"We missed a ton of layups," Krmpotich said. "We came out really flat. I thought they did a good job defensively against us, but we weren't aggressive at all, and that's not like us."
Gorman is now hoping for a repeat of history from the 2007 season, when it lost in the region championship to Centennial, only to come back and beat the Bulldogs a week later in the state championship game.
"This loss definitely makes me want to come out even harder," Diamant said. "Two years we did the same thing. We lost by six to Centennial at region, and at state, we came out and won by 21. So this is a huge motivating factor."
The events of 2007 are not lost on the Bulldogs. Following the game, Weitz reminded her club that since Centennial opened a decade ago, neither the Bulldogs nor the Gaels have defeated each other twice in the same season for girls basketball.
"You look for things that motivate and challenge the kids," Weitz said. "So we said, 'Hey why don't you be the first team that maybe will beat Gorman twice.'"
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.