By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Every time it seemed the Palisades High girls basketball team was through on Saturday in the championship game of the Cleveland New Year’s Classic in Reseda, the Dolphins came roaring back.
Sydney Meskin hit a three-pointer from the corner to pull Palisades within a bucket, 43-41, with 40 seconds left but Kate Higashi scored on a breakout layup and Jamie Crespin added a clinching free throw with three ticks remaining as host Cleveland held on for a 46-41 victory.
The two teams met in the first round of the City Division I playoffs last winter and the Cavaliers ended Palisades’ season with a five-point triumph. Forward Jane Nwaba sat out that game with an injured finger. She was on the court Saturday and showed why the Dolphins are a different team with her in the lineup.
“I got a chance to watch them yesterday,” Cleveland Coach Raquel Alotis said. “They are athletic and fast, much stronger than last year. Palisades is a City Open Division contender. Two years ago we were Division II and last year was our first in Division I so we knew it would be tough to beat them. We’ve worked hard on our zone, not letting athletic guards penetrate. As the game went along they made adjustments, so we had to counter those adjustments.”
Nwaba led all scorers with 18 points and Meskin added nine on three behind-the-arc jumpers. Sammie Arnold had seven points and point guard Alexis Pettis added five for the Dolphins, who trailed 20-18 at halftime and 35-29 through three quarters. Higashi scored 15 points while Delia Ortega, Jamie Mitchell and Crespin added nine apiece for the Cavaliers.
“It was a tough game but we needed one like this,” said Pettis, a sophomore who enjoyed one of her best games as a Dolphin last year against Cleveland when Palisades was coached by Danielle Foley. “Their defense was tight. We really had to focus on offense. The momentum swung back and forth a lot. We would go on a run and they would go on a run. How I play is all based on confidence and I’ll work on that. I have to get my teammates are involved.”
Palisadesbegan the tournament on a three-game winning streak and extended that with a 53-38 triumph over Moorpark.
Nwaba scored 12 of the Dolphins’ 14 points in the first quarter and finished with a game-high 19. Pettis added 12 and Sophia Canter hit a pair of three-pointers for six.
In the quarterfinals, Nwaba led the way once again, netting 17 in a 61-50 victory over Royal from Simi Valley.
Pettis added 13 points and hit three three-pointers, Arnold had 11 and Canter made three more from beyond the arc.
The Dolphins played Golden Valley of Canyon Country in the semifinals and opened up an 18-9 lead in the the first quarter on the way to a 52-41 win—their sixth consecutive victory.
Arnold was the high scorer with 16, Nwaba had 12, Canter and Rose Morris had six apiece, Pettis and Amador each had four.
‘We’re definitely better than we were last year,” Pettis said. “We’re more together, chemistry is way better. Our coaches expect a lot in practice. Win or lose, the important thing is learning from our mistakes and continuing to get better. I still think we’re an Open team. From the start of the season to the way we’re playing I think we can get there.”
Coach Adam Levine, in his first season with the Dolphins, accentuated the positives despite the setback against Cleveland.
“We took plays off and got complacent today and it cost us, but the good thing is each time we dug ourselves a seven-eight point hole we came back,” he said. “We got some bad calls, but we still should beat that team by 15. Give them credit, they played a heck of a game. We have our two toughest league games Monday and Wednesday, so we have shake this off quickly.”