Long Beach Poly might have forfeited 22 victories, but it didn't forfeit its pride, and on Saturday at the Sports Arena in the Southern California Regional Division I final, the Jackrabbits made good on the Moore League's graciousness.
Poly's inspired, unselfish performance beat Southland rival and three-time state champion Lynwood, 63-44. The Jackrabbits (10-25) will play Saturday in Sacramento against North Coast Section runner-up Berkeley (21-11) in their first state final.
By virtue of a 4-3 vote by Moore League representatives, Poly received the last of four automatic qualifying berths. It beat four league champions to reach last week's Southern Section Division I-AA final, a 52-44 loss to Lynwood (27-5).
Junior point guard Jameia McDuffie, playing additional minutes because ineligible player April Cook is no longer with the team, scored 18 points, making all 10 of her free throws.
Sophomore Jasmine Dixon scored 14 and had 10 rebounds, and junior Candice Nichols scored 12, all on three-pointers.
Poly played team basketball and seized control late in the second quarter. After it fell behind, 21-16, Nichols made a three-point shot that tied the score, 21-21, as part of a 12-0 run that ended the half with Poly leading, 28-21.
Nichols' timing was impeccable throughout. Her three-pointer to open the game set the tone for Poly. When Lynwood cut the deficit to 38-33 in the final minute of the third quarter, she quelled the rally after around-the-horn passing. At 46-39 in the fourth quarter, Nichols hit another three with 5:06 left that ignited a 13-0 run.
"I hadn't really been working out on my own," Nichols said. "I took 130 shots a day last week after practice."
-- Martin Henderson