Trailing Carson by 16 points at halftime last Friday night in the championship game of the Palisades Beach Invitational, it was gut check time for the Palisades High girls’ basketball team. Coach Torino Johnson’s squad responded the way he hoped it would, narrowing its deficit to two points with under three minutes remaining, but the visiting Colts made their foul shots down the stretch and hung on for a 49-42 victory. “That was really the difference,” Johnson said, referring to the second quarter, in which Palisades was outscored 14-2. “We stopped attacking, started watching and the game got out of hand. Once the girls got it together we started chipping away at their lead.” Three Dolphins made the All-Tournament squad: guard Ashlie Bruner, forward Nicole Flyer and center Donae Moguel. Bruner had 15 points in Palisades’ 61-54 semifinal win over Calabasas and added 10 points, six rebounds, six steals and three assists in the final. “I’m just reading the floor and giving my teammates a lot of open looks,” Bruner said. “If we can cut down on the turnovers and improve our rebounding and defense we’ll be really good.” Moguel has big shoes to fill, trying to replace the graduated Dominique Scott, one of the best post players in the City last year. So far, Johnson likes what he sees from Moguel, who had 11 points and seven rebounds against Carson and a game-high 22 points in the Dolphins’ 59-34 runaway victory over Camarillo in the quarterfinals. Flyer led the Dolphins’ second-half resurgence against Carson, finishing with 11 points, three assists and eight blocks. “We didn’t stay consistent throughout the game, but if we play them again I think we can win,” Flyer said. “The more we practice, the more we’re getting used to each other and everyone is finding their specific role. We’re all friends and we have a close team so we’re looking forward to a great season.” Wednesday’s semifinal between Carson and LACES came right down to the wire (the Colts won 55-51), but the next night’s second semifinal pitting Palisades against Calabasas was perhaps the most thrilling game of the tournament. Palisades built a 13-point lead after three quarters, but the Coyotes closed to within 56-53 with 1:05 left. Guard Skai Thompson stole an inbounds pass and was fouled, Bruner added two clutch free throws, and the Dolphins escaped. “I called a timeout after they had cut the lead to three and the girls came back to our bench and the first thing they did was laugh,” Johnson said. “They weren’t freaking out, they had the attitude like ‘we are going to win this game.’ So I tapped into that aggression.” Palisades opened the tournament last Tuesday with a 47-18 blowout over Manual Arts–a game in which all but two players scored at least a basket–and that momentum carried it all the way to the finals for the first time in the six years it has hosted the Beach Invitational. When teams dropped out last year, the Dolphins ended up sharing the title with Marymount and Notre Dame Academy. This year’s tournament ran much smoother and, more importantly, a toy drive donated about $1,500 worth of holiday presents to the California Children’s Hospital. “I’m thrilled to death the way things turned out,” Johnson said. “This was by far the best this tournament’s ever been and I’m proud that we got to the finals.” The Dolphins travel to Arizona next Friday for the Nike Tournament of Champions.
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