Saugus’ appearance in the CIF-Southern Section quarterfinals Wednesday night was anything but the status quo.
It marked the team’s first trip to the game since 2006.
It would’ve been tough to tell Saugus was making its first quarterfinals appearance in over a decade as Centurions kept with their routine after traveling two-plus hours to play at Claremont.
Saugus deployed its full-court press from the tip and didn’t pull back until the final five minutes of the game, keeping Claremont on its heels all night and leading the Cents to a 57-35 win.
“We’re just finally playing as a team, working together,” said Monique Febles, who led all scorers with 20 points. “I think we’re just super excited. We’re still really young, I guess, sophomores mainly on this team. But it’s just a great experience, and for most of us, our first experience.”
Saugus (22-7) will host either Peninsula or Beverly Hills on Saturday in the semifinals. According to Saugus coach Jason Conn, it’s the team’s first trip to a Southern Section semifinal since 1997.
“They’ve got so much confidence in their game right now that they’re going to be hard to beat,” Conn said. “They’re playing a very high level of basketball right now.”
The Saugus press stifled the Wolfpack out of the gate, propelling the Centurions to a 13-6 lead after the first quarter. Sophomore Libbie McMahan had five points in the opening frame and ended the night second on the team with 13 points.
“It was nice to get ahead because that took the pressure off us,” McMahan said. “We were able to pass the ball around more and find better shots.”
Claremont (16-14) found a rhythm in the second quarter and cut Saugus’ lead to 18-14 with 3:15 left in the first half. But the Cents still managed to go into the intermission with a 30-22 lead.
The third quarter was not a kind one for Claremont as the Saugus press certainly looked to have worn down the Wolfpack from the first half. Saugus outscored Claremont 14-6 in the third quarter, leaving little drama in the fourth.
“Every time we press, even if we’re not scoring off it, we’re wearing them down,” Conn said. “Three-pointers don’t come that easy when you can’t get your arms above your head because you’re too tired.
Febles and McMahan were the only Cents to score in double figures. Venessa Ogbu was third on the team with eight points and Eden MacKenzie had seven points. Camille Troncone led Claremont with 11 points.
Conn had especially high praise for Febles’ ability to evade Claremont’s press throughout the contest from the point. Febles had a team-high six assists to go with her 20 points.
“She was absolutely amazing,” Conn said. “I had never seen anything like it.”