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LHS moves on to D4 semis, clinches first NorCal berth
GBSK--Ripon-Lathrop pic 2WEB
Semajynique Steen attacks the basket on a Lathrop fastbreak while Ripons Rachel Sausedo tries to change the shot. - photo by GARY JENSEN/

LATHROP — Juliana Denning was feeling it on Thursday night.

So were the rest of the fourth-seeded Spartans of Lathrop High in this one-sided Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV matchup with No. 5 Ripon.

Spotting up on the left wing late in the fourth quarter, the reserve center took a pass from Rylene Crull and drained her second straight jumper in as many tries. 

Later, fellow senior post Annalisa Garcia made good on her only opportunity to score, banking in a mid-range attempt for the final points of the game.

Lathrop head coach Dwayne Davis threw his hands in the air, shook his head and smiled. It was that kind of night for his history-making Spartans, who pasted the Trans-Valley League champion 80-34 to reach the semifinal round as well as the CIF State Northern California Regional Championships for the first time.

“We came in today, had an early shootaround and I’m watching them nailing everything,” Davis said. “We were loose and dialed in. That’s when I knew it was our night. They played a perfect game on both ends of the floor.

“This was one of the games where all I could say as a coach was, ‘Wow.’”

“Wow” is right.

Even Ripon coach Rick Inderbitzin was impressed. 

“They play so well together,” he said. “What they were doing in the open court looked real nice. They were on key. They did everything well and there was nothing we could do. What else could we do? We were off and they were the cause of that.”

It was a thoroughly-dominated game by Lathrop (22-5) from the opening tip. The Spartans were ahead 11-0 just 2 minutes, 5 seconds into the contest and 28-7 going into the second period. They then went on a 9-0 tear that helped swell the lead to 47-17 by halftime.

Myani Thornton spearheaded five Lathrop scorers in double figures with 17 points, six assists and three steals. Semajynique Steen finished with 16 points, 16 rebounds and four steals. Mary Cotton poured in 11 of her 15 points during the Spartans’ first-quarter blitz and also tallied 11 rebounds, four steals and four blocks. 

Khiya Thornton chipped in 11 points, five assists and four steals. Crull added 11 points off the bench.

Steen’s put-back layup put the running clock in play with 6:36 left and Lathrop leading, 69-29.

The Spartans held an overwhelming 40-21 edge on the boards, distributed 21 assists, swiped 20 steals and forced 24 turnovers.

“We just came out more energetic than in most games where we’d come out a little slow in the first half,” Myani Thornton said. “We’re usually a third-quarter team, but we played our third quarter for the whole game.”

Lathrop’s speed, length and all-around tenacity were too much for the Indians (22-5). Sophomore standout Reina Sausedo, who came in averaging more than 20 points per game, settled for 11 points, three steals and three blocks. Tianna Sidtikun and Savannah Clark, Ripon’s second- and third-leading scorers for the season, were held without a point. Reserve center Katie Kaiser picked up some of the slack with 10 points, while fellow senior Mia Van Lewen scored six points all in the first half of her final outing for the Indians.

“We haven’t seen a team like that this season,” Sausedo said. “They play with a lot of confidence, they’re quick and it’s obvious that they’re comfortable with each other. We’re used to being confident in ourselves and pushing the ball up, but their press was really good.”

With a berth to the state playoffs already assured, Lathrop is still in the hunt for the school’s first section title — in any sport. Standing in the way is top-seeded Foothill (25-3) of Sacramento, which welcomes the Spartans next Tuesday. The Mustangs — led by UC Davis-bound guard Makaila Sanders, who is averaging 26 points — defeated No. 9 Sonora 76-63 on Thursday.

It was Foothill who knocked Lathrop out of the Division IV quarterfinals last year, 64-38.

“We came in with the mindset that for the past two years we’ve been in this same exact spot and we’ve lost,” Steen said. “Coming into this game we were really determined to win so that we can accomplish the third of our goals, which is to make it to the state playoffs. 

“With that in mind and with us pushing each other, we were able to have fun. Once we started playing the way we can play we realized that we’ve done something special and we’ve gone to where we wanted to go.”