Heading into Thursday night’s City Series postseason final, everything seemed to be working against Kenmore-Garfield. The Golden Rams had already lost to their opponent, Buchtel, twice this season, and the Griffins had won the league the past two seasons.
But Kenmore-Garfield coach Yontami Jones had a good feeling after the intensity she had seen during the previous weeks of practice.
“We really, really wanted to beat Buchtel this time,” Jones said. “This time, we just wanted it. I could tell. Yesterday’s practice was awesome. I told them, ‘It’s hard to beat a team three times.’ ”
Jones’ feeling was right.
Kenmore-Garfield (11-11, 8-3) jumped out to a big early advantage and staved off a furious Buchtel comeback attempt to win the City Series postseason title 49-46 and hand the Griffins their first league loss of the season.
Kenmore-Garfield’s defense stifled Buchtel (16-5, 10-1) early, limiting the Griffins to just five points en route to a six-point advantage after the first quarter.
The Rams took their biggest lead of the game (20-8) two minutes later when senior Alexis Radcliff got a wide-open layup off an inbounds pass. Helped by Kenmore-Garfield's 10 missed first-half free throws, Buchtel closed the gap slightly and trailed 26-19 at halftime.
Buchtel came out of the break playing aggressively and narrowed its deficit to one point (37-36) on two layups by junior Javaan Rogers (13 points) to end the third quarter. Sophomore guard Amiyah Stallings then made a 3-pointer from the right corner to give Buchtel its first lead since the first quarter two minutes into the fourth.
Jones said the turning point of the game was how her team responded.
“The girls put in their heart to dig deep and do whatever it takes to win this game,” she said. “We had three girls with four fouls, but they played hard. That’s what we needed.”
The win for Kenmore-Garfield was aided significantly by sophomore guard I’anna Lopp, whose step-back, banked-in 3-pointer drew the Rams even at 45-all with 2:36 left. It was her second 3-pointer from the same spot with the same result. Lopp led the Rams with 24 points.
“She has the green light from me,” Jones said. “I know most of the time when she shoots it, it goes in. I was feeling it then. She goes hard in practice. She’s the type of player who goes on YouTube and then practices what she watched. She’s just wonderful.”
Kenmore-Garfield sealed the win with 18 seconds left. Down 47-46, Rogers drove into the lane and had her shot blocked, then got a technical foul. Senior Alexis Radcliff (19 points) made the ensuing free throws to give the Rams a three-point advantage, and the Griffins couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.