Birmingham girls basketball knocks off Westchester to reclaim City Section Open title

Birmingham players celebrate after defeating Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

PASADENA — The Birmingham girls basketball team won the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open championship for the second time in three years by defeating Westchester 55-50 at Pasadena City College on Saturday.

“It was our main goal – to get here and bring a trophy back home,” said Birmingham coach Victor Koopongsakorn. “Credit goes to all these players. They played so hard. We had a great week of practice this week. They really wanted this one.”

The Patriots (24-6) knocked off the defending section champions largely because they were able to bottle up Westchester star Mariah Blake, who had 23 points in the semifinals and was held to just nine points Saturday.

“Really can’t say enough about the job Deedee Berry did against Mariah,” Koopongsakorn said. “She’s the reigning City Player of the Year. Everything goes through her and we were hoping to force someone else to beat us.”

Birmingham’s Zoee Mitchell and Reigne Waugh of Westchester battle for the ball during the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division final Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham’s Natalie Lopez drives to the hoop under pressure from Ariana Jackson of Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division final Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham’s Zoee Mitchell and Westchester’s Ariana Jackson compete in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division final Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham and Westchester battle it out for the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division title Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham players celebrate with coach Victor Koopongsakorn after defeating Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Westchester’s Serenity Johnson defends Zoee Mitchell of Birmingham during the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham’s Annette Jones drives to the hoop under pressure from Savannah Myles of Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division final Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham players celebrate after defeating Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Westchester’s Mariah Blake against Birmingham during the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division final Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham’s Natalie Lopez controls the ball against Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division final Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Westchester’s Serenity Johnson splits Birmingham players defenders on the way to the hoop during the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham’s Natalie Lopez goes to the floor to grab a loose ball as they defeat Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division final Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham players celebrate after defeating Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship Feb. 24, 2024. (Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham’s Natalie Lopez and Westchester’s Mariah Blake battle for the ball during the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division final Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Birmingham players celebrate after defeating Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship Feb. 24, 2024.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

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Berry also sparked the offense, knocking down the first of her three 3-pointers with 4:31 left in the first quarter, which were Birmingham’s first points. She also connected on a pair 3s later in the game that both gave the Patriots a lead.

“She was the only person shooting consistently tonight,” Koopongsakorn said. “The 3-pointers were the only shots she made but those were big shots.”

The Patriots went to halftime with a 24-21 lead after showcasing a deep bench. Sophomores Kamora Coleman and Aniya Johnson were crucial in slowing Westchester’s fast-paced offense while Annette Jones led the way offensively, scoring seven of Birmingham’s 15 points in the quarter. The junior finished with 10 points.

“We have people coming off the bench that are playing great defense, knocking down shots and contributing where they can,” Koopongsakorn said. “It was a total team effort. I don’t think they could have subbed as freely as us. With us able to do that I wasn’t surprised in the fourth when we still had legs and were able to get defensive stops in the end.”

The teams took a 36-all tie into the fourth. Birmingham’s defensive toughness made that possible. The Patriots drew four charging fouls in the quarter, including two in the first minute.

“Selflessness,” Koopongsakorn said. “They’re willing to put their body on the line. In the semis we tried to take those too and weren’t able to get the calls. We talked about setting your feet and really taking the charge.”

The Patriots put this one away in the game’s final minute. Aniya Johnson hit a free throw to put Birmingham ahead for good. She also grabbed a pair of key defensive rebounds to help seal the win.

Senior Natalie E. Lopez scored eight of her 13 points in the fourth, including knocking down four free throws in the last 30 seconds. She also had seven assists and three steals.

“This meant the world to us,” Lopez said. “We’e been working our butt off since the summer. We had constant hours in the gym with practices right after. Constant sweating, tears. We put everything in it.”

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