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The Nipomo High School girls basketball team captured the CIF Central Section Division 2 championship with a 44-39 win against Paso Robles High School Thursday night.

The road to get to the playoffs was a tough one for Nipomo.

In the end, that made the road the Titans traveled during the playoffs that much more manageable. 

The upstart Titans played a grueling Mountain League schedule and grinded through the regular season with a 6-7 record, resulting in earning the No. 5 seed for the CIF Central Section Division 2 playoffs. 

The Titans' playoff run featured three road games against higher seeds. They won them all, culminating in Thursday night's 44-39 win over No. 3 seed Paso Robles to give Nipomo its first CIF championship in girls basketball.

The Mountain League featured four CIF Central Section champions and one of the four teams to make the Central Section's Open Division in Arroyo Grande. League teams won titles in Division 1 (Righetti), Division 2 (Nipomo), Division 3 (St. Joseph) and Division 4 (Orcutt Academy). 

Nipomo coach Chris Litvinchuk said playing in the difficult league was one of the factors that helped the Titans play so well in the postseason. Nipomo started the playoffs with a 57-27 win at No. 4 Porterville Monache. That set up a showdown with No. 1 Bakersfield Ridgeview. The Titans edged the Wolf Pack 50-48 in another road win.

Nipomo then faced Paso Robles, the Ocean League champion and No. 3 seed, in Thursday's final. It was a shorter trip than the previous two playoff games, but a road game nonetheless. Litvinchuk feels the team took its focus and attention to detail to another level during this playoff run on the road.

"This team kind of found themselves a little bit more," Litvinchuk said. "The girls came together in that different type of environment. Staying on the coast the whole season and then to go and drive a few hours in different directions, especially the first two times, I think it really brought this group together a little bit more. I don't know if it was being on the road, but we were able to focus and concentrate a bit more. They embraced it.

"I couldn't have asked for a better group to keep their composure and demeanor. They had a lot of adversity and got through it."

Junior Kacie Slover was one of the players that helped lead the Titans through this playoff stretch. She scored 14 points in Thursday's final. She also had 11 rebounds. She's averaged 16.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, helping the Titans go 9-7 including the playoffs.

"Kacie is extremely important," Litvinchuk said. "She's kind of a glue player. She keeps everyone together. When we needed a bucket, when we needed a big play, she seems to be the player that gets us that. Or she's the player who gets it for someone else. She's been our captain this season and she's continued to grow. Kacie is such an unselfish leader."

Litvinchuk said Slover has moved all over the floor this season, from the various guard positions to forward. Slover played at forward in Thursday's win over Paso Robles. 

"She's been asked to wear many different hats and she's just embraced it," Litvinchuk said. "She has a selflessness about her. She just is the ultimate team player."

Litvinchuk said the team defines resiliency. 

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"Kacie exudes that and the team feeds off of her belief and her continued effort in being relentless and wanting to compete," he said. "When you see a leader do that, it makes the team that much stronger. She's worked so hard on her game and her ability to expand her game in all phases. She's a joy to coach. This entire group is special. It's a great group of 12 girls."

Thursday's final was decided in the final two minutes as Nipomo tightened the clamps on defense. The Titans were down 39-38 with about two minutes left.

"We had to get multiple defensive stops and continue to make plays," Litvinchuk said. 

The Titans were in that position after foul trouble in the first half. Honnalee Kennedy and Kat Anderson each picked up two fouls midway through the first quarter. 

"The bench had to step up and we made some defensive adjustments," Litvinchuk said. "We adjusted our game plan based on the way things were going. I've got to give the girls credit with all the changes that kept us in the game. It was a low-scoring battle. Tons of credit to Paso, they're a great team with five great seniors."

Nipomo got a steal with two minutes to go that led to a lead-changing basket, putting the Titans up 40-39. 

"We continued to protect the ball and we hit our free throws. We went 4-for-4 on free throws and those were both 1-and-1s. We continued to believe and play hard," Litvinchuk said of his team's play in the final two minutes. "We didn't play a perfect game, we didn't play a clean game. But the girls didn't waver, their demeanor and composure remained."

Anderson finished with eight points and Kennedy had seven. Leah Miller and Kayden Sanders added five points apiece in Nipomo's win. 

The Titans now turn their attention to the state playoffs. The seedings for the CIF State SoCal Regional will be released on Sunday. Nipomo, after three straight road games, will be hoping for a home game to open the first round of the regional. 

Nipomo's championship roster features Anderson, Miller, Kennedy, Slover, Sanders, Gracie Gutierrez, Makennah Simonson, Clarissa Simonson, Shannon Tryon, Chloe Wells, Karina Logue and Rebecca Nichols.

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