By Austin Green
The world has changed dramatically since when the John Burroughs High School girls’ basketball team faced Whittier Christian in the CIF Southern Section Division 2A quarterfinals in February 2020, and when the two teams squared off in the first round of the 2021 Division 2AA playoffs on Thursday.
Everything from the ubiquitous mask-wearing in Burroughs’ Hurst Gym, to the host school’s abrupt mascot name change from Indians to Bears earlier this spring, to the game’s 3:30 p.m. start time to accommodate Burroughs’ senior graduation ceremony that night because the game was being played in late May, would have seemed strange early last year.
But history still repeated itself as Burroughs eliminated Whittier Christian from sectional playoffs the second straight year, pulling away late for a 55-45 victory.
The win lifts the Bears into the second round, where they will host Murrieta Mesa. The game is currently slated for 7 p.m. Saturday as of press time, though schedules are subject to change.
Burroughs forced several turnovers down the stretch as head coach Vicky Oganyan’s aggressive press defense wore down the Heralds, leading to some crucial breakaway points in the second half.
“The most important thing I tried to emphasize was not letting the other team out-hustle us,” Oganyan said. “I told them how we felt in different situations when a team has beaten us and we get an opportunity to play them again; you do everything in your power to get back at that team.”
The Bears recovered from a horrid second quarter in which they made just one field goal to outscore the Heralds 35-23 after halftime.
Senior forward Faith Boulanger scored a game-high 24 points, including 16 in the second half. After a lackluster first three quarters, sophomore forward Isabella Roderick looked like a completely different player in the fourth, grabbing several possession-extending rebounds on the offensive glass and scoring six of her seven points in the final period.
Roederick said afterward that she had a moment of emotional clarity after being benched midway through the third quarter with her third foul, and Oganyan was pleased with what her promising sophomore post player did with that emotion.
“She took that and channeled it in a great way because when I put her back in… her rebounding and inside play really helped us down the stretch,” Oganyan said. “She was also smart down the stretch where she didn’t try to block crazy shots; she just kind of stood there. So she just played really smart and aggressive, and it was really good to see from a sophomore, taking her frustration and channeling it the correct way.”
With emotions running high on both teams, momentum swung back and forth throughout the game. Burroughs scored on its first three trips down the court and took a 10-0 lead, ending the first quarter leading 15-6.
But the Bears’ offense ground to a halt in the second quarter, as Whittier Christian jumped passing lanes for easy turnovers, forced contested shots, and got Burroughs into foul trouble, allowing the Heralds to climb back into the game even as their own shooting remained subpar. A deep three-pointer from guard Emma Eaton and a floater from Haley Condit proved enough to put Whittier Christian up, 22-20, at halftime.
“That’s who they are,” Heralds head coach Whitney Brown said of her team. “They don’t give up, they’re always battling, they’re always fighting. I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”
The Bears’ offense finally started to reawaken in the third quarter. Boulanger made her first three shot attempts of the period, including a three-pointer at the top of the key to give Burroughs a 30-28 advantage, their first lead of the second half. Whittier Christian threatened to retake the lead with the last shot of the quarter, but senior forward Noor Fahs stole the ball and brought it down the court for an easy layup to give Burroughs a three-point advantage entering the fourth.
The Bears went up by six points early in the fourth, but Whittier Christian got two quick steals and scores of its own to tie the game at 40-40.
Burroughs finally pulled away for good, though, when Boulanger hit another three-pointer, Roederick had a steal on one end of the court and two quick putback layups on the other, and senior guard Dyani Del Castillo converted a three-pointer to effectively put the game out of reach.
Aside from Boulanger’s 24 points, Fahs was the only other Burroughs player in double digits with 11. Del Castillo finished with nine points on 3 for 7 shooting from deep, and senior forward Kayla Wrobel added four points.
It was only appropriate that Oganyan’s three senior starters — Boulanger, Wrobel and Del Castillo — each contributed to the win just hours before their high school graduation. Oganyan credited their playoff experience with helping navigate the unique circumstances of the day, and Roderick said their presence was a big motivator for the younger players to help pull out the victory.
“The seniors didn’t have a full school year, at least get a good playoff game while we’re at it,” Roedrick said. “This [win] was really big. I didn’t want them to go to graduation upset.”