LOS ANGELES — When the final buzzer sounded on Saturday night, the Glendale Adventist Academy students rushed onto the floor and sprinted over to their girls’ basketball team’s bench.
PHOTOS: Glendale Adventist Academy vs. Shalhevet High School girls' basketball
They joined the Cougars’ courtside huddle, surrounded the players in a circle, locked arms and then began chants of “GAA, GAA!” Those rang out, at least for some 30 seconds.
The upset-minded, 13th-seeded Cougars had just fallen to ninth-seeded Shalhevet, 51-38 in the CIF Southern Section Division VI semifinals at the Westside Jewish Community Center. And the loss ended their season, but it didn’t appear to strike a sour note.
“It made us feel like winners at the end,” forward Madison Federici said,” because we definitely gave it our all and that’s all we could do. For them to come out here and support us, it meant the world.”
For upstart Glendale Adventist (8-8), which finished sixth in the Liberty League, it also capped a bit of a surprise postseason run. But after three straight victories, including a 40-34 quarterfinal win over St. Monica Academy, it proved to be a reenergizing one. The semifinal finish marked a first in program history.
“The pride in our school has been revived,” Cougars Coach Joseph Naguit said. “This is what we’ve been trying to accomplish and we think that we have done that.”
Early on during Saturday’s contest, the undermanned Cougars kept it close against the bruising Firehawks (19-3). Trailing, 13-8, midway through the first quarter, a 10-2 spurt pushed them ahead by three points at the 5:55 mark of the second period.
But then, things unraveled.
After Glendale Adventist forward Melisa Lopez, who had six first-half points, nailed a jump shot in the lane to knot the game at 20 apiece, Shalhevet closed the first half on an 11-2 run, seemingly putting the game beyond reach.
“We were just rushing,” Naguit said about the end to the second quarter. “And our defense wasn’t jump-starting our offense. We were getting caught up not looking and getting caught on a swivel looking for our man. We just weren’t moving. It was like our feet were embedded in cement.”
And so they trailed at halftime, 31-22.
“We just got a little too caught up in the game,” Federici said, “and we were hectic.”
That run spilled over into the third quarter, as Glendale Adventist was further outscored, 9-2, with its lone basket coming from Federici. The senior finished with a game-high 24 points with 12 in each half.
But the Cougars couldn’t stop the Firehawks’ lanky point guard Sigal Spitzer, who added 22 points and energized her team’s offense one possession after another.
“She gave us a hard time,” Naguit said.
Glendale Adventist had one late push, holding Shalhevet without a field goal for the first four minutes of the final period and outscored them, 14-11. But it never brought the lead back into single digits, the closest coming when Fedrici floated a runner in the lane to cut the lead to 11 points with 36 seconds to go.
“We knew we could play good ‘D,’” Naguit said, “but we needed that ‘D’ earlier.”
Shalhevet will square off against second-seeded Santa Maria Valley Christian or sixth-seeded Joshua Springs in the Division VI title game, which is set to be played either on Friday or Saturday.