San Pedro High girls basketball hadn't been tested properly in the Marine League since all nine prior games were decided by 16 points or more regardless if the Pirates won or lost, however, as visiting Washington of Los Angeles came to town eager to avenge a bitter defeat the first time around, San Pedro would get that test and then some.
They passed it with flying colors.
Leading the majority of the second half, the Pirates had to withstand a furious late fourth-quarter push by the Generals that eventually went into overtime, but somehow, San Pedro was able to prevail, 66-63 in a wild, critical battle Friday night that ultimately decided third place in the Marine League standings. It was senior night for the seven seniors on the Lady Pirates, and they all were able to celebrate all the way through before a raucous crowd.
"I love it," San Pedro senior forward Rayanna McDowell said. "Our stands have never been so full in all the years we've played here."
One of McDowell's fellow senior comrades, forward Cheyenne Alvarez, had the perfect close to her three years on varsity, providing a career performance that was also complimented by arguably the greatest game of the career of San Pedro junior guard Rita Fiorenza.
San Pedro (13-7 overall, 7-3 league) would jump on Washington (14-9, 5-5) early in the four-minute extra period with the first of two killer three-pointers from Fiorenza, followed by another three-pointer from Alvarez, and then another clutch three by Fiorenza that had the Pirate fan base go bonkers, and give the Pirates a 61-55 advantage with 2:03 to play in that overtime.
"I was so happy I made that clutch shot," said Fiorenza of her second overtime trifecta that sparked a 10-point overtime explosion that culminated with a career-high 31 points overall. "I just knew that I had to take that chance for my team."
In fact, it was Alvarez's offensive rebound that triggered that shot.
"I knew she could do it," Alvarez said. "Rita never disappoints me. She kept composed and believed in herself. She made everyone pumped up, and every time she made a shot she kept Washington scared."
The first half was mainly back-and-forth, but the Generals went into halftime with a 28-27 lead. San Pedro would grab a 39-35 lead through three quarters, and seemingly had victory in their sights when freshman guard Deanna Valverde hit a 15-foot jumper for a 53-49 lead with 1:14 to play in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Monique Roland hit a three-pointer to cut the Generals' deficit down to 53-52, and then senior forward Brianna Wade made one-of-two free throws to tie the game with 16.4 seconds left.
San Pedro would get several chances to win in regulation, as Roland fouled San Pedro senior forward Amber Ruiz with 4.8 seconds left, but Ruiz missed both free throws. Amazingly enough, the second miss was grabbed by Alvarez who immediately found Valverde at the top of the key, but her three-pointer bounced off the front of the rim as time expired to let out a collective groan among the San Pedro fans, signaling overtime.
Yet, the Pirates never faltered, and that's when Fiorenza, Alvarez, and eventually the crowd would will the Pirates to their first season sweep of Washington since 1988.
"This game proved that we can work together on the court even under intense moments as we went into overtime," said Alvarez, who had 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists. "We had so many supporters in the stands and everybody wanted to win it for our seniors, since it was their last home game. Everyone kept their head in the game and all we kept telling each other was we were not going to lose this game."
Fiorenza, who also had five assists, six rebounds and three steals while making five three-pointers, knew San Pedro would be in for a fight after they handled Washington, 58-36 in the first meeting on January 24, but also acknowledged her team's will to win.
"Our whole team wanted to win really bad, and especially for our seniors since it was their senior night," Fiorenza said. We were really happy and excited afterwards."
Valverde contributed with 7 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds off the bench for San Pedro, while McDowell had 5 points and 11 rebounds. Senior guard Jazmyne Davis led Washington with 20 points, and Wade scored 11.
This latest victory guarantees San Pedro will finish no worse than third place in the Marine League, their highest finish in over two decades.
"That's awesome," Fiorenza said. "We worked hard for this!"
San Pedro closes the regular season with two road games at Gardena on Wednesday, and at Carson on Friday, February 14.