Skip to main content

Westchester girls basketball holds off Hamilton for third straight CIF-LACS finals appearance: 5 takeaways

Mariah Blake steals the show with 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight steals

TORRANCE, CALIFORNIA — Once Westchester makes it to the L.A. City Section Open Division semifinals, it's not so much a matter of if Mariah Blake is going to dominate, but when and how.

Two years ago in an upset of Granada Hills Charter, she controlled the game steadily throughout by dominating the offensive glass to surpass 20 points and 20 rebounds.

Last year against Crenshaw, she did her damage from the perimeter, and 13 of her game-high 19 points came in the last 12 minutes of game time.

So, how and when did Blake take over on Saturday at El Camino College against Hamilton? Immediately, and in almost every way possible.

Blake set the tone by posting a double-double in the first half alone, and helping the Comets build a lead that reached 17 points by early in the third quarter. 

While Hamilton would come storming back, reigning champion Westchester prevailed in a 66-58 victory to make its third straight finals appearance. And Blake finished with a gaudy line of 23 points, 16 rebounds, and eight steals and three assists.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. Blake's incendiary first half blazes way

Mariah Blake (Westchester #2)

Mariah Blake (Westchester #2)

Saturday was yet another Mariah Blake legacy game, and she achieved the majority of it in the first half alone. Being particularly assertive from the opening tip, she scored nine points in each of the opening quarters, totaling 18 points and 11 rebounds by halftime. During that stretch, she connected twice from three, once from mid-range, and six times from the charity stripe on put-back attempts.

"Since she's a senior, we've been wanting her to [be aggressive early in games], and lately she's been getting it more," said Westchester coach EJ Jackson.

"She's always been more of a leader by example, but now she's being more vocal." 

2. Hamilton's comeback impressive

While Blake cooled off in the second half, she continued anchoring the team's defense and helped get her teammates involved on offense. More than anything, they rode that 17-point lead as long as they could.

With the referees calling a physical game pretty tightly, Hamilton made a concerted effort to get downhill more in the second half, and took charge of the fouls battle. Hamilton went 13-20 from the free-throw line in the second half, manufacturing points while disrupting Westchester's rhythm, and that was the story for a while.

Hamilton chipped the lead down to one possession with 3:24 left in the game, trailing 55-52. But it couldn't get any closer, especially after junior guard Kinidi Curl fouled out with 1:55 left in the game en-route to a 66-58 finish.

Jade Fort led the Yankees with 20 points, and recorded four assists. Curl totaled 12 points, eight steals, and five rebounds. Tatiana Cruz scored nine points on three deep balls, and Elsa Miller and Brooklyn Harris scored seven points each.

3. Rubber match win filled with Serenity

With two consecutive wins in the matchup to offset Hamilton's win early in league play, Westchester once again has a winning record against every team it's faced across the last two seasons. That overtime loss on Dec. 6 was the only thing keeping Westchester out of the running for the top spot in the seedings and rankings. Now that it's been avenged twice, it's hard to call reigning champion Westchester much of an underdog heading into the title game.

It's probably no coincidence that Westchester's wins coincided with the mid-season eligibility of senior guard/forward Serenity Johnson, formerly a standout at Windward and Corona Centennial. She had 14 points, tied with her freshman teammate Savannah Myles for second-most in the game, and was on the ground several times making hustle plays.

"Serenity can score at all three levels it makes it easy for the rest of the girls to get in their groove," said Jackson. 

"When Serenity came to the team, it got us another ball-handler and another shooter, it opened the game up for the rest of the girls. She's gonna need a cold tub tonight, she's a little sore from [diving on the ground]. But we're going to get her ready for next week."

Serenity Johnson (Westchester #23)

Serenity Johnson (Westchester #23)

Johnson has also been a vocal leader for the Comets, something Jackson praised her for, and helped get them into their sets on numerous occasions after plays had gotten broken up.

Myles, arguably the top freshman in the section, also recorded four assists.

Reigne Waugh notched eight points, seven steals, and six rebounds for Westchester, and Monroe Anderson added four points and seven boards.

4. Hamilton not done yet

On to regional playoffs for the Lady Yankees, who are most likely to wind up in Division I, but could plausibly be in Division II. So their season could possibly have another few weeks left.

Whatever comes of that, Hamilton primarily consists of juniors, including four of its starters. Which means it will be quite arguably the team to beat in the City next season if it stays healthy and returns all its juniors as rising seniors. Based on what they've achieved as juniors, Curl, Fort, Harris, Miller, and centers Dahlia Yepez and Sania Epps would comprise the most formidable senior core in the section.

5. Westchester won't be smug

Westchester will play in its third consecutive Open Division championship on Saturday, and its worst-case scenario is that it finishes with a 1-2 record. Its best-case scenario is going back-to-back, and getting a little bit dynastic. And, while it was with a completely different group of players, Westchester also has a 2019-20 Division 1 title not far in its rear-view mirror.

With all that said – and with all the Comets' returning talent in future years – putting together two classes like their 2023 and 2024 classes doesn't happen often. Don't expect Westchester to come out complacent just because of its recent successes.