Justine Mejia scores 32 as Arleta knocks off top-seeded Chatsworth 54-50 to advance to the CIF L.A.City D1 Girls Basketball Finals


After battling through a tough 4-6 season in the West Valley League, the season came down to one last offensive possession on Friday, February 16th, 2024 for the No.1 seeded Chatsworth Chancellors. Trailing the No.5 seeded Arleta Mustangs 53-50, junior Zak’irah Bruce was unable to convert the tying three-point attempt with 8.8 seconds left and the Chancellors were forced to foul. Arleta junior Aakira Smith secured the win and a berth in the CIF L.A.City Section Division I Girls Basketball Finals by knocking in one of two free throws before time expired. The enthusiastic crowd at Birmingham Community Charter High School were treated to an outing filled with playoff level intensity in the 54-50 Arleta victory.

The contest got off to a sloppy start in the first quarter with neither team striking iron in the first two minutes. After Arleta scored first, the two teams battled to a defensive struggle until junior Justine Mejia got going offensively for the Mustangs. Her nine points in the first quarter catapaulted her team to an early 11-6 lead. With under a minute left in the first quarter, Chatsworth finished the quarter creating turnovers with a backcourt press, which led to a five-point swing on the other end to cut the Arleta lead to one.

The Chancellors continued their defensive momentum into the beginning of the second quarter, as the Mustangs relenquished the lead with back-to-back turnovers. Both teams had trouble taking care of the basketball in a slugfest before Chatsworth settled down offensively by taking advantage of transition points. Junior guard Lani Murata knocked in 8 of her 11 first half points for the Chancellors to lift her team to a 24-20 lead at the break.

Arleta came out of the locker room in the second half making an adjustment defensively to cut off dribble penetration in the half court. Forcing errant passes from the Chancellors, Mustangs junior Victoria Eufracio took advantage of their miscues by scoring all nine of her points in the third quarter. Both teams found their groove offensively in the third quarter with Chatsworth carrying a slim 41-39 lead into the final period.

The Mustangs set the tone to begin the fourth quarter when Mejia regained the lead with a basket through contact in addition to the foul. The game turned dramatic when Arleta earned a technical foul after a conversion from Chatsworth guard Lindsey Kadonaga. Unfortunately for the Chancellors, they were unable to capitalize on their technical free throw attempts, and Arleta proceeded to go on a 9-2 run with seven of those points coming from Mejia. Imposing her will and asserting her physicality on the glass, Mejia scored 13 of her 32 points in the final quarter to make her mark in crunch time.

With under two minutes left in the game, Arleta held a 50-45 lead when Murata scored her fifteenth point to cut the lead to three. After an Arleta turnover, Chatsworth sophomore guard Victoria Menjivar made the first of two free throws before a costly lane violation erased the second free throw attempt to once again derail the Chancellors at the charity stripe. Both teams traded baskets leading to Mejia converting one of two free throws with 23.7 seconds left before Bruce’s afforementioned attempt. An 18-12 season concluded for the Chancellors in heartbreaking fashion, while the Mustangs advanced to the CIF Finals where they will take on their league-rival Poly Friday night at 8:00. 

*All photos courtesy of VST intern Benjamin Becher

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