Birmingham girls basketball advances to City Open Division final with win over King/Drew

TORRANCE – The top-seeded Birmingham girls basketball team connected on only one 3-pointer in its CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division semifinal against No. 4 King/Drew at El Camino College on Saturday.

The Patriots made it count.

Senior Samantha Velasquez put Birmingham ahead 16-14 when she knocked down a 3 as time expired in the first quarter when. The Patriots never trailed again, going on to beat King/Drew 49-44, to secure a spot in the Open Division final.

“We joked around saying all three of our shooters couldn’t be cold on one night,” said Patriots coach Victor Koopongsakorn. “The college floor with multiple lines probably throws us off a little bit. We have to get used to it and will have to find a way to make some shots next week at Pasadena.”

After missing the finals a year ago, Birmingham is excited to be back. It will face Westchester on Saturday at Pasadena City College.

“We were really looking forward to this one,” said Koopongsakorn. “The girls who are seniors this year were on the team that won the Open in 2022 and were knocked out (of the playoffs) by King/Drew last season.”

Natalie E. Lopez led the way with eight points in the first quarter, including a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. The senior filled the stat sheet all night, finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals.

“She’s probably our rock,” said Koopongsakorn. “The epitome of a point guard. Anytime we start to get a little out of control, she’s there to calm us right down”

After surrendering a basket to open the second period, the Patriots ripped off an 11-0 run that helped send them to the locker room with a 29-21 lead at halftime.

The Golden Eagles defense held the Patriots to just six third-quarter points, and they attempted 14 free throws. They pulled within four points by the end of the third.

Birmingham’s Zoee Mitchell came to life after halftime, scoring 12 of her 15 points in the second half. She also had eight rebounds and four assists.

“We knew we were struggling with the outside shot, so we wanted to look inside to her,” Koopongsakorn said of Mitchell. “A sophomore stepping up in big spots was a huge lift. She took a lot of contact but still found ways to score. We need that, especially games like this when shooting is a little tougher.”

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