Zimmerman sisters lead Sea Hawks advance in CIF Division 3 playoffs
by Paul Teetor
Ella Zimmerman is so talented and so skilled that she has proved she can do anything on a basketball court – except, so far, to play point guard.
But that’s exactly what Redondo’s 6-foot-4 superstar junior center might have to do from here on out to keep the Sea Hawks advancing in the CIF Division 3 state playoffs.
Early in Thursday night’s 47-45 second-round victory over El Dorado of Orange County, Redondo’s starting point guard, freshman sensation Chloe Choy, went down in a heap after a brutal collision under the home team’s basket.
After several minutes of writhing on the floor, she was helped to the bench, where, for the rest of the game, she sat glumly with her leg heavily taped while cheering on her teammates as they held off a second-half El Dorado charge.
Although the injury has not been diagnosed yet, Sea Hawk coach Marcelo Enriquez said there is no chance she will play in Saturday night’s third-round game against 11th seeded Oak Park.
“It’s a knee issue, no doubt,” Enriquez said. “It doesn’t look good.”
The injury to one of Redondo’s best players has created a scenario where Zimmerman might have to expand her already huge role in the Sea Hawk offense.
“We just might have to play Ella at point guard,” Enriquez said. “I have faith she can do whatever we need her to do.”
Zimmerman was dominant once again in leading her team to the hard-fought victory. She scored 23 points – half her team’s total – while ripping down 19 rebounds and dominating the paint on both ends of the floor.
Zimmerman proved that she is much more than just a gangly kid who happens to be nearly a foot taller than many of the other players on the floor. She displayed a tight handle, great footwork, a soft touch both around the rim, and out on the perimeter, and a willingness to pass the rock to open teammates.
But it was Choy’s absence that turned what was a first-half blowout-in-the-making into a white-knuckle, nail-biter that went down to the final seconds before it was decided.
After trailing 26-15 at halftime, El Dorado smartly took advantage of Choy’s absence in the second half and came out with a full court press.
“That press really gave us problems,” Enriquez said. “We had trouble handling it.”
It also served another purpose: keeping the ball out of Zimmerman’s hands. Whereas in the first half the Sea Hawks were able to patiently work the ball around the outside before finding Zimmerman in her favorite spots near the basket, now the press sped up Redondo and forced them into more turnovers than a gluten-free bakery.
Still, Redondo was able to maintain its double-digit advantage in the third quarter, ending it with a 36-26 lead. And when shooting guard Bri Boyd started the fourth quarter by drilling a pair of foul shots, the Sea Hawks had a 38-28 lead.
That’s when El Dorado turned up the defensive pressure, swarming the Redondo ball handlers – often Zimmerman or her sister, 6-foot-1 freshman Abby Zimmerman – and getting away with what appeared to be repeated fouls while producing a flurry of turnovers.
The atmosphere in the gym got so heated that Redondo Athletic Director Andy Saltsman ejected a Sea Hawk fan who came down from the stands and was loudly and profanely berating the refs.
“He said something he shouldn’t have said,” Saltsman said after the game.
As the game careened toward the final buzzer, El Dorado closed to within 6 points, but again Boyd – who finished with 16 points — hit two foul shots to pump the lead back to 8 at 44-36.
Ella Zimmerman connected on a smooth sky-hook from 8 feet away and when her sister Abby hit one of two foul shots, the Sea Hawks had what felt like a comfortable 47-40 lead with a minute left.
But El Dorado scored on a layup, and finally banked in a 3-pointer to beat the final buzzer. But all that last-second miracle shot did was to cut the final margin down to 47-45 and make the game appear even closer than it actually was.
The reality was that second-seeded Redondo led from start to finish, but once Choy was injured the momentum slowly turned El Dorado’s way.
But in the end it wasn’t quite enough and the Saw Hawks hung on for the win.
Now they will host 11thh-seeded Oak Park Saturday night in what might very well be Ella Zimmerman’s debut as the starting point guard.
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