HUNTINGTON BEACH – The St. Margaret’s girls basketball team found itself in a battle midway through their 44-33 triumph over Gahr to earn the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA crown on Saturday night, Feb. 25.
Not only did the Tartans face an attacking defense, but the raucous contingent of Gahr supporters in the Edison High School gym was just as imposing.
Leading 18-17 at halftime, St. Margaret’s took control out of the break with a 10-0 run to begin the third quarter and never looked back to capture the program’s first CIF-SS championship in its first CIF-SS Final.
Kaitlin Tam, who scored six of her 12 points during the run, said in the post-game press conference that her contributions were the result of significant preparation.
After playing “off” throughout the preceding playoff games, Tam took it upon herself to stay late following practice on Friday and work on her game.
“I think just the preparation, the words that I’ve heard leading up to this game, like everyone in my ear, all my teammates, all of that culminated into me being able to perform when I needed to, essentially,” said Tam.
She added that she felt the need to step up in order to accomplish the task in front of the team.
Freshman Taylor Francis finished right behind Tam with 11 points, on a night where the opposing crowd constantly called her ability to dribble into question with loud jeers.
Francis said her teammates and coaches’ support helped her push through.
Down 34-23 heading into the fourth, Gahr put together an 8-2 run to cut the Tartans’ lead to five with around five minutes remaining. The Gladiators would only manage two more points before the final buzzer.
St. Margaret’s motivation and preparation, according to Francis, pushed the team to pick up their game and close out the contest.
Tam added that one of the Tartans’ best qualities is their ability to avoid getting flustered.
“I used to make fun of Taylor all the time because I thought she never had emotions on the court and I never could tell what she was feeling…,” she said. “But I honestly think that’s probably one of our best qualities and it honestly keeps us together all the time.”
St. Margaret’s head coach Josh Markum credited the Gladiators’ defensive prowess and ability to pressure that made life difficult for his team.
The Tartans were in control for the majority of the game, leading 11-8 at the end of the first quarter and holding off Gahr before the break. Gahr senior Kameryn Mitchell was a nuisance, however, scoring 12 of her 16 points in the first half on an efficient 55% shooting.
Markum called Mitchell a “tough player” and praised Sophia Gazzaniga’s defense in the second half that played a role in Mitchell shooting 2-for-7.
Overall, the Tartans head coach said that they matured and became more experienced over the course of the season.
“Now, to be here, I don’t want to say I’m surprised by (the championship) because of the work that they put into it ,but I just couldn’t be prouder,” Markum said.