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CANYON COUNTRY — Canyon girls basketball coach Jessica Haayer says you can’t think a game is over until there’s less than three minutes left.
“And then it becomes, you’ve got to cut a lead down,” she said.
A disciplined La Salle team built up a substantial early lead, leaving Canyon to dig deep in the final quarter. The Cowboys had their highest-scoring quarter in that final frame, but the Lancers stayed the course to win 53-36 in the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA quarterfinals.
La Salle moves on to the semifinals where they’ll play Redondo Union on Saturday.
“When you get a team like that, that is so disciplined to work you until they get the layup,” Haayer said, “if you’re not disciplined right back and you don’t communicate and you don’t do all those things, you’re going to give up layups. You’re going to give up buckets.”
Canyon (20-8) only scored three points in the first quarter on a layup and a free throw by Jade Sims, who went on to finish the game with 14 points.
The Cowboys started to disrupt La Salle (28-3) in the second quarter while slowly making some shots of their own. Koko Booker hit a jumper on one end, then blocked a shot on the other. Two minutes later, Josie Regez sank back-to-back 3-pointers to bring the score to 20-10 with 1:40 left in the first half.
Regez paced the Cowboys with 15 points in the game. The junior didn’t begin playing basketball until she got to high school, but Haayer expects her to be a leader on next year’s team.
“She started her freshman year, but that was the COVID year,” Haayer said. “So she’s still out like, 20 games, but you’d never guess. She’s good. She has finesse.”
La Salle built on its 24-11 advantage in the third quarter, then Canyon scored 17 points in the final quarter.
Sims blocked a shot, a maneuver that sent La Salle’s 6-foot forward Casey Higgins sliding into the gym doors behind her to keep the score at 46-32 with 2:40 left in the game. Regez made a layup for some momentum in the final minutes.
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Canyon picked it up in the final three minutes, and the program itself has improved in the last three years. The Cowboys shared the Foothill League title this season and won it outright last season, but were in fourth place in 2021.
“We were like wow, we’re a really good team when we’re all playing together, when we’re all scoring, when we’re all playing defense,” Sims, a senior, said. “And that’s what we noticed my junior year and that’s when we turned it on.”
The sustained success came with the help of alumni and support from others within Canyon athletics. Alumni come back to practice with the team and create a sizable cheering section behind the Cowboys bench for games. Canyon’s boys varsity team also practices against the girls team.
“The tall ones, the short ones, the fast ones, they all come and play with us to get better,” Sims said of the alumni. “It shows that they believe in us, too. It means a lot to us.”
Hart, which shared this season’s Foothill League title with Canyon, will be in the other semifinal game.
Canyon will be trying for another league title and a longer playoff run after this year’s run to the quarterfinals, which surpassed last season’s first-round loss in Division 2A.
“There’s alway a challenge when you walk into these doors every day,” Sims said. “No matter how tired we are, no matter if we just got back from San Francisco. Practice the next day. It was a really good ride.”