Valencia girls hoops beat Saugus for first place

Valencia's Mailey Ballard (2) fights to keep the ball against Saugus defenders Libbie McMahan (3) left, and Monique Febles (1) at Valencia High on Jan. 18, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

With 20 seconds on the clock in a game that could possibly decide the Foothill League champions, Valencia’s Leilani Manuel stood at the top of the key, ball in hand.

After a pass from Yasmine Ahllamara, Manuel had a choice. She could listen to her coach’s advice and not shoot any more 3-pointers. Or, she could go ahead and take the shot.

“Coach was just saying like, not to shoot a 3 ever again,” Manuel said, “but you know, I got confident.”

She drained it, putting the Vikings up by six points.

Seizing moments of confidence like the one that Manuel had were crucial in Valencia’s 42-37 win over Saugus on Friday night. With the win, the Vikes remain undefeated in league play.

“She is a great 3-point shooter and she was having a rough day, but to her credit, that was a big moment in her life and I’m thrilled for her,” said Valencia coach Kevin Honaker, getting misty-eyed.

Saugus (20-3 overall, 4-2 in Foothill League) had its share of big moments, too. After a haphazard first quarter, the Centurions managed to reach a 6-4 lead after four points from Eden MacKenzie and two from Libbie McMahan.

Valencia (11-9, 6-0) took its first lead of the game at 8-6 on a jumper from Mailey Ballard with a little over six minutes to go in the second quarter. On Saugus ensuing possession, Marissa Howell stole the ball and passed to Ahllamara, who went in for a layup and put Valencia up 10-8.

The game went back and forth for the rest of the frame until Saugus’ Libbie McMahan made a series of free throws to give the Centurions the advantage once again at 15-12.

The Cents came out confident after halftime, forcing a Valencia team that already wasn’t shooting well to miss even more.

“We didn’t shoot well tonight,” said Honaker. “I never credit ourselves for missing, I usually credit the other team for playing good defense, which I think they did and caused some of our misses.

“But overall when you go 4-for-25 (from the 3-point line) and that’s a big part of your game, that hurts us because that made our inside game bad, too. We didn’t have it today.”

Monique Febles made back-to-back layups to put Saugus ahead 21-17, then scored on a jumper and a layup to give her team a five-point advantage less than three minutes later.

Ballard closed the gap to 27-24 in Saugus’ favor by the end of the third.

“They were here to play,” said Valencia’s Skylar Ingram of Saugus. “They were here to get that league title, to make the co-league championships here. So we had to come out and play our game and we have to be confident and smart so that we can get this win.”

Ingram elevated her game in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, to finish the game with eight points.

After missing a shot near the seven-minute mark, Ingram corralled an offensive rebound and made a shot immediately after to give Valencia a one-point lead. Shortly after, however, McMahan nailed a 3-pointer to switch the advantage yet again.

In the final three minutes of the game, the Vikings were able to capitalize on some free throw opportunities to set up a win. Ingram made three-of-four shots from the charity stripe then a layup for a 36-34 lead.

Ingram said that staying focused on her routine helped her stay composed during the big free throw moments.

“It’s three dribbles, my left foot has to be arched and I’m literally on my tippy toe with my left foot,” she said. “If it’s farther back than my right foot, it’ll probably go in most of the time.”

Manuel then scored her 3-pointer and essentially sealed the game.

“We stuck to the game plan,” said Saugus coach Jason Conn. “Played our hearts out and just came up short.”

McMahan led the Centurions with 18 points, followed by Febles with nine. For the Vikes, Ahllamara scored nine and Howell had eight.

Valencia is now first in the Foothill League standings. Saugus is now tied with Canyon for second place.

The Cents play West Ranch on Tuesday before facing the Cowboys for the second time this season on Jan. 29. The Vikings play at Hart on Tuesday.

Hart 65, Golden Valley 31

Emily Munoz and Kaleigh Moss led the Indians (3-15, 2-3) with 13 points each, followed by Trudy Larkins with six. Emma Allen chipped in 16 rebounds.

Golden Valley (9-11, 1-4) plays Poly of Sun Valley today.

Canyon 66, West Ranch 23

Kiki Taufaasau led the Cowboys (12-12, 4-2) with 17 points and three steals. Jordan Wise had five points and 10 steals and Genesis Gonzalez had eight points and two steals. Canyon is set to play Golden Valley on Tuesday.

The Wildcats are now 3-18 and 0-6.

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