West Ranch charges into state tournament, beats Arleta 

Aubrey Molina (2) of West Ranch goes after the ball against Arleta High defender Aaliyah Serpas (2) at West Ranch High on Tuesday, 022724. Dan Watson/The Signal
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West Ranch girls’ basketball reaffirmed itself as a contender and a third-quarter team on Tuesday after an impressive win over the Arleta Mustangs. 

The Wildcats won the game, 55-45, after the team pulled ahead in the third quarter on the heels of senior point guard Alanna Topete, who shined in her and the program’s first-ever state game. 

Topete was in her bag throughout the third, when she added 10 of her game-high 22 points. The Cats senior was pivotal in the squad’s 10-0 run to start the second half as she showcased some solid ball-handling and footwork skills and found open shots at the rim. 

Alanna Topete (24) of West Ranch shoots against Arleta High at West Ranch High on Tuesday, 022724. Dan Watson/The Signal

“I just had to do what I had to do to get my team to win,” Topete said. “It was pretty exciting.” 

Topete remained a pass-first point guard and finished the game with six assists. 

West Ranch (20-13) only trailed for the first few minutes of the game but after the first of three first-half 3-pointers from sophomore Sophia Molina, the Wildcats charged ahead. 

Sophia Molina (32) of West Ranch drives past Arleta High defenders in the fourth quarter at West Ranch High on Tuesday, 022724. Dan Watson/The Signal

“(Molina) was due for that,” Topete said. “She can hit them and she had the confidence today. That was great. We needed that.” 

The Cats aimed to slow down Mustang stars Aaliyah Serpas and Justine Mejia. Serpas went down with an injury early and sat for the majority of the first half.  

Serpas returned in the second half, in which she added 12 of her 14 points. 

Maia Garrison (33) of West Ranch steals the ball from Arleta High in the fourth quarter at West Ranch High on Tuesday, 022724. Dan Watson/The Signal

Arleta (21-12) had a height advantage, leaving Wildcats senior Maia Garrison with a tall task of locking down the paint. Garrison pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds, while also adding eight points, one block and an assist. 

The Mustangs knocked the deficit into single digits multiple times in the second half but just couldn’t get into striking distance. 

The game was physical for all four quarters, with a ton of fouls, jump balls and players diving for loose balls.  

Senior Aubrey Molina played well on both sides of the court for West Ranch and finished the night with nine points, five steals, four rebounds and a block. 

Aubrey Molina (2) of West Ranch aims a three pointer against Arleta High at West Ranch High on Tuesday, 022724. Dan Watson/The Signal

West Ranch prevailed in its first-ever state tournament game and hit the 20-win mark, extending the most historic season in program history.  

Topete praised first-year coach Paul Gross for helping the program reach new heights. 

“We couldn’t do it without our coach. He’s great,” Topete said. “We play so well as a team together with great chemistry. We all love being together.” 

The game was West Ranch’s fifth postseason game this season but only the second at home. Gross was pleased with his team’s ability to bounce back at home.  

“It was surprising. I didn’t know if we would get a home game, so it was great that we got in here,” Gross said. “We haven’t played great at home sometimes but today we definitely had a good game. It wasn’t perfect, but we made some big shots when we needed to.” 

The Wildcats will advance to the regional quarterfinals and face a familiar foe in the Newbury Park Panthers. 

West Ranch beat Newbury Park in the Panthers’ season opener and will now look to close out their opponents’ season with one more loss. Garrison will be tasked with another challenge of stopping Panthers forward Kierabella Coletta-Todd, who dropped 20 points on the Wildcats back in November. 

“The next one’s gonna be tough. We gotta face the No. 1 seed,” Gross said. “We have played and beaten them already earlier in the year but in a very close game. This will be another close and they’re gonna be gunning for us.” 

Newbury Park was named the top seed in Division 4 and will host West Ranch, which has yet to drop a road playoff game, on Thursday at 7 p.m. 

Aishwarya Sudan (34) of West Ranch shoots against Arleta High defenders at West Ranch High on Tuesday, 022724. Dan Watson/The Signal

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