By Laurel Busby
It was a particularly happy year-end celebration for the Palisades High School girls basketball team, who won the championship game at the Cantwell-Sacred Heart tournament on New Year’s Eve.
The girls, coached by Torino Johnson, beat the home team 66-49 to earn first-place glory and cap a strong December, which included a second-place finish in the Gahr Tournament the previous week.
Pali, which now has a 12-5 record, fought well against Cantwell-Sacred Heart at the Montebello tournament despite injuries to two normal starters, Julia Ide and Chaniya Pickett, who had to sit out the game. Chelsey Gipson, Kayla Williams, Caytlnn Gorden, Jane Nwaba and Leily Martin instead started the game and helped earn the team’s win.
Between the two teams, things seemed fairly even at first. They were tied at 11 after the first quarter, but then Pali picked up steam. By halftime, the Dolphins were leading 28-21, and by the end of the third quarter, they had a substantial 51-36 lead.
Cantwell-Sacred Heart fought hard in the final quarter, scoring 13 points to Pali’s 15, but it wasn’t nearly enough to stop the Dolphins and senior guard Gipson, who scored 27 points and earned tournament MVP honors. Sophomore guard Williams also had a good game, scoring 14 points, while freshman forward Nwaba added 6. Both were named to the all-tournament team. Sophomore guard Martin contributed 15 points in the victory.
In the preceding days, the Dolphins beat their other tournament opponents to earn the spot in the championship game. They first dominated the Whittier Cardinals 74- 39 on Dec. 26 with Williams scoring 26 points, while Gipson added 19. Nwaba also picked off 12 rebounds, while Williams grabbed 9.
The following day, the Dolphins came back from a deficit to beat Junipero Serra
Catholic 64-62 in their only close game of the tournament. Pali fell behind JSerra, 24-11, in the first quarter, but slowly inched its way back, outscoring JSerra by two points in the second quarter, six points in the third, and then seven points in the fourth to gain the victory.
Gipson led with 27 points, while Wil- liams contributed 16 and Martin added 11.
Two days later on December 29, the Dolphins defeated Birmingham, 73-46. They outscored the Patriots by 14 points in the first quarter and then padded their lead in the third and fourth quarters.
Gipson again had a high-scoring game with 26 points, while Williams scored 17 points and Nwaba added 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
In its last game before the championship, Pali had five players who each outscored the entire point total of the opposing team. Pali won 68-8 over the Glenn Eagles with Gipson leading the way with 15 points, while Nwaba scored 14, Williams 13, Martin 12 and sophomore forward Brooke Messaye 10. Nwaba also grabbed 15 rebounds.
At the earlier Gahr Tournament from December 20-23, the Dolphins also reached the championship game where they faced Troy, a school they had beaten 56-52 on Dec. 5. This time, things didn’t go their way as Troy outscored Pali by 10 in the second half to win, 62-54.
Both Gipson and Williams had strong games, scoring 23 and 20 points respectively. Nwaba nabbed six rebounds and scored four points, while senior guard Chaniya Pickett landed five rebounds and added three assists.
Pali had a competitive first half, even leading 32-30 at halftime, but Troy outscored Pali by five points in both the third and fourth quarters.
The second-place finish capped off a solid series of games for the Dolphins. They started the Gahr Tournament with a commanding 70-41 win over Central. Gipson was on fire, scoring 35 points, including 9 three-pointers, while Williams pitched in for 16 points.
In game two, Pali faced South Gate and again dominated the game, winning 77-27. Williams led the scoring with 20 points, while Gipson added 17 points and Martin contributed 16.
The Dolphins, who were last year’s City Section Open Division champions, continued their dominant play against Carson. Gipson hit 8 three-pointers and scored 34 points, the same amount as the entire Carson team, and Williams has 13 points as Pali won, 62-34.
For the first 16 games of the season, Gipson, who has committed to play at Loyola Marymount University next year, and Williams have averaged 20.9 and 15.9 points respectively.
The Dolphins next play Valencia at the Matt Denning Hoops Classic on January 7. Their Western League season begins Jan. 9 at University High School at 4:30 p.m., and their first home game will be January 11 at 4:30 p.m. against Venice High.