It’s been an emotional week for the Long Beach Poly girls basketball team.
After winning a historic CIF Southern Section Division 1 title last week, the Jackrabbits core of seniors graduated on Wednesday.
With such a wave of emotions, Poly coach Carl Buggs said the last couple of days were about keeping the team prepared mentally heading into their CIF State Southern California regional semifinal game against Esperanza on Friday.
“This is a COVID season,” Buggs said. “Nothing is normal. We played a CIF championship and that’s probably the peak right there. Then we got to the regionals and in reality you just playing to continue playing. We were talking about how the CIF championship at Poly was history. Well the regional championship can be too, we’re trying to keep ways to keep them motivated but it’s been tough.”
After a slow start Nala Williams hit some clutch shots on her way to score a game-high 17 points leading the Jackrabbits to a 53-36 victory over the Aztecs. Poly advances to the regional final to face Rosary Academy on Saturday at Poly at 7 p.m.
“(Esperanza) came out with a lot of energy,” Williams said. “We just tried to play with the kind of energy that we knew how to play with and coach Buggs was on us to just calm down and relax because we were rushing a lot of things.”
Even with the off day, the Jackrabbits (17-2) jumped out to an 11-2 lead in the first quarter and looked on their way to a convincing win.
But, the Aztecs fought back behind Alyssa Cubo who scored four points to cut Poly’s lead to 13-8 in the first quarter.
Williams had a dominant first quarter scoring nine points.
With relentless defense, Poly kept Esperanza at bay allowing only five points to take a 28-14 lead at halftime.
“We want to make history,” Kalaya Buggs said. “We’re just trying to finish on a good note.”
With Poly having some offensive struggles, Esperanza was able to outscore Poly 10-7 in the third quarter to cut the Jackrabbits’ lead to 35-24 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Aztecs (22-4) were able to cut the lead to 37-30 forcing a Poly timeout. After the timeout, Poly went on a 10-1 the lead back 16 to secure the victory.
Lily Buggs scored 14 points and Khalei Gentle scored 10 points.