There’s a new powerhouse in Peninsula girls basketball, and it’s one that’s been building for a long time.
The South San Francisco Warriors won their first PAL Tournament since 2000 with a thrilling 59-58 victory over Menlo-Atherton on Feb. 17 and now stand two wins away from their first Central Coast Section title in program history.
This is no flash in the pan. In 2016, the Warriors were PAL semifinalists and CCS runners-up. Last year, they fell short in the PAL Championship and CCS Semifinals.
“There’s been buzz throughout the school since winning the PAL Tournament,” said head coach Paul Carion. “Everyone’s rallying around this team.”
With back-to-back thrilling wins to claim that PAL title, it would be hard not to support this group. Led by Cal Baptist commit Brittney Cedeno and a talented supporting cast, the Warriors erased fourth-quarter deficits in both their semifinal win over Aragon and the championship triumph over M-A, the three-time defending champion.
Trailing Aragon 46-42 with less than two minutes left, South City scored the final six, and the following night, the girls outscored Menlo-Atherton 10-4 in the final four minutes. Both times, it was Cedeno who hit the winning shot in the final 10 seconds.
It was a far cry from last year’s championship game, in which Cedeno went down with a season-ending ankle injury.
“It just sucked all of the air out of the building when she went down,” said Carion.
Cedeno suffered an ankle injury in Tuesday’s practice and is unlikely to play today.
Injuries were an unfortunate trend of the past two years. In 2016, it was Kayla Jew who got hurt two days before the CCS Semifinal and Cedeno suffered a concussion in the first-round state tournament game, one in which a 13-point lead slipped away after she left the game.
Regardless of who’s healthy, it’s clear that this is a darn good team. The Warriors dominated the PAL North, finishing with a running clock in eight of 12 games. They also own an impressive nonleague win over Brookside Christian of Stockton and defeated three PAL South heavyweights for the league title.
“We’re doing it the right way,” said Carion. “Last year we were winning because we had more talent. This year we’ve been playing well.”
In Saturday’s CCS Quarterfinal win over Mills, it was all about post play, with Jerlene Miller, Lafu Malepeai, Nevaeh Miller and Becca Tasi combining for 50 of the team’s 67 points.
The Miller sisters provide strength in the post and Cedeno is a wiry 5-foot-9, but three members of the roster are under 5-foot-3. Jew, Jezelle Madrid and freshman Alex Salise may be the smallest players on the court on a nightly basis, but they bring tremendous talent, and Salise is part of the next wave that’ll carry the Warriors after this group departs. Cedeno, Jew and both Miller sisters are seniors, but Salise and Malepeai, a sophomore, leave plenty of hope for years to come.
For now, their sights are set on what’s immediately ahead. A date with 2017 runner-up Soquel awaits in today’s CCS Semifinal.
Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated from an earlier version to include Cedeno’s injury on Tuesday.