Poly girls pass test in Open Division win over Cajon

Long Beach Poly head coach Carl Buggs looked out at the court Wednesday night and saw a tense team — a tense team that had a tough time knocking down shots.

Perhaps nerves kicked in, the head coach assumes.

The program has never won a CIF Southern Section Open Division crown. He told his young team — featuring just two seniors — that winning the crown would help put their own mark on the program.

To do that, they would first have to advance to the right side of the bracket not the left, the consolation side. You can write in No. 2 seed Long Beach Poly with a sharpie on the right side following a 59-42 win over No. 15 Cajon (25-2). It was the first playoff game for many of the Jackrabbits and, on a pass/fail grading scale, they passed, although it wasn’t always pretty.

Poly (24-2) appeared to be primed to run away with the game using its full court press to force Cajon turnovers and then turn those into easy points in the first half. When Cajon found a way to get to the basket Eliza Matthews was there to block shots away. Matthews nearly had a triple double with a team-high 13 points, 10 rebounds, and eight blocks.

"I’m just there for help," Matthews said. "If a girl’s coming and gets past you, I’m going to either block her or take a charge."

After a wide open first half, Poly took a 28-19 lead into the locker room at halftime. But things slowed down in the second half.

Cajon’s 2-3 zone proved effective against a Poly team that had a tough time knocking down shots.

"They were open looks," Buggs said. "We normally shoot well from the threes and our shooters were off."

Cajon, led by a nine-point third quarter from leading scorer Kayla Washington, cut the Poly lead to just three by the end of the third. Poly was outscored by six in the quarter with many players having a startled look on their faces during the break in between quarters.

"This is really the first pressure situation that this team has been in in the playoffs," Buggs said. "We really had no one to pick us up."

The spark would eventually come from sophomore Aiyana Barnes, who didn’t provide a lift scoring the ball but with her effort and energy to help the Jackrabbits speed up the game in the fourth quarter. The sophomore finished with four rebounds, three of which were on the offensive end and two steals.

"She was making things happen," Buggs said of Barnes. "That was huge."

The Jackrabbits outscored Cajon 21-7 in the fourth quarter thanks to Barnes’ energy and a couple of big three point baskets from fellow sophomore Danae Miller and junior Da’Jah Jackson to put the game out of reach.

Washington, who came into the game averaging just under 28 points per game was held to just 15 points to lead Cajon. As far as tests go, the Jackrabbits passed. Consider it a lesson learned as they move on to face 7-seed Vista Murrieta.

"Every night you can do something like this and keep moving on, it’s a great lesson," Buggs said.