Orange Lutheran players celebrate with the plaque for winning the CIF-SS Division 3AA championship Saturday in Azusa.

Orange Lutheran finishes on top again thanks to its defense


AZUSA The nerve-wracking script has become all too familiar for Orange Lutheran coach Tom Howard, but the outcome will never get old.

Leading by two points with 17 second remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lancers used their lockdown defense to force a critical turnover by Sonora.

Senior point guard Taelor Griffin secured the game seconds later with a pair of free throws, and Orange Lutheran’s players soon stormed the court for a second year in a row, celebrating a gritty 32-28 win over Sonora in the CIF-SS Division 3AA championship at Azusa Pacific University on Saturday morning.

The Lancers (25-6) have captured three CIF-SS titles under Howard since 2011, including two in a row by slim four-point margins. They are Orange County’s first repeat champions since Mater Dei grabbed four straight titles from 2009-12.

“I find myself shaking my head and just continue to be so proud of these girls, so amazed by them,” a relieved Howard said after the game. “No matter how bad it looks or how bad things may be going at any given moment, they dig down. They dig something deep inside of them, and they have found a way (to win) for two years now.”

In a game where defense was the star, Sonora shot 26 percent from the field (12 of 45), while the Lancers hit just 20 percent of their shots (9 of 45).

Orange Lutheran came up empty on its first eight possessions of the second half, and the Raiders (27-4) used a 9-0 run to grab the largest lead of the game, 22-15. A pair of 3-pointers by Lainie James put the Raiders up by seven with 3:25 left in the third quarter, but they didn’t make a field goal for the next eight minutes.

“They did a really good job taking away our best scorers, and they were very physical with us on our cuts, which really took us out of our game,” Raiders coach Melissa Barajas explained.

Lancers guard Jada Reed took just one shot in 25 minutes of action, but she was the embodiment of her team’s disruptive defensive effort. The senior racked up four steals, fought through screens and was integral in holding the Raiders to six points over the final 11-plus minutes of play.

Griffin scored six of her 11 points in the fourth quarter, choosing to attack the rim when her jump shot was not falling.

“It was definitely a mentality thing,” she said after starting 0-for-11 from the field. “The help and encouragement from my teammates and the coaches (to keep shooting) was important.”

The Lancers went 7-for-9 from the free throw line in the fourth, and finished the game 14 for 21. Sonora was 1 of 4 at the line.

Orange Lutheran’s Gloria Bates led all scorers with 12 points. James paced Sonora with nine.

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