In the waning minutes of Valencia girls basketball’s game against Bishop Alemany on Thursday, Vikings coach Kevin Honaker called a timeout. His young team was trailing by two, and the game’s outcome was looking bleak.
“I go, ‘Unfortunately, we weren’t ready for this moment. You’re young and inexperienced and you haven’t been in this and it showed. That happens,'” Honaker told his team.
Valencia was able to score once more after the timeout, but Alemany rode the hot shooting of Ashley Orozco to win 51-47 in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 tournament at Valencia High School.
Despite having only two seniors on the roster, the Vikings (17-11) played like a team of seasoned vets throughout the first three quarters. Sticking to the sharp-shooting style they’ve developed this season, Valencia hit three consecutive 3-pointers, one from Yasmine Ahllamara and two from Mailey Ballard, to build an 11-0 lead with 4:30 remaining in the first quarter.
Skylar Ingram shot a two-footer, then Orozco hit a 3 of her own to close out the first quarter at 13-8.
“We were just focused on coming out as a team and playing like it was our last game,” said point guard Marissa Howell. “And just give it 100 percent of our effort.”
Valencia’s hot 3-point shooting continued into the second quarter with Ballard hitting a trey at the 6:20 mark. Ahllamara followed with a 3 of her own, then Ingram managed a 3-point play with a layup and an and-one.
Ballard made two more 3’s before halftime: she shot one with 2:50 left and another she banked in as the buzzer sounded.
“The time was running out, I guess I should’ve looked at the clock before, but I shot it and I knew it was off, so I was just relieved I at least banked it in,” Ballard said.
However, Orozco was heating up, too, just as the teams headed to the locker rooms. She made three 3-pointers of her own in the second quarter.
Orozco continued to be a threat throughout the third quarter, but Valencia’s defense was able to limit Alemany (13-12) to just four points in the third quarter.
Then came the fourth quarter.
“Three-point shooting was on, we were playing really well, defensively I thought we did a great job, so we were really kind of excited about it,” Honaker said. “And I think our defense was fine in the second, in the fourth quarter it was purely and simply the horrific, bad turnovers that led to easy baskets.”
Orozco became increasingly difficult to guard. She scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, seven of which were from the charity stripe.
“She had great handles and was really deceptive and it was fun guarding her and playing against that competition,” said Howell, who was tasked with guarding Orozco throughout the night.
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The Warriors’ Malia Semana hit a 3 to tie the score at 45-45, then Isabelle Hernandez went in for a layup that gave Alemany a 47-45 advantage.
Orozco hit two free throws to make the score 49-45, then Ballard scored on a jumper to cut the deficit to 49-47 with 13 seconds remaining in the game.
Two more free throws from Orozco sealed the game and ended Valencia’s playoff season.
“We executed for three quarters and then the fourth quarter their ball pressure and our inability to get to spots that we practiced fell apart under their pressure,” Honaker said. “It just got to them. And that can happen, I credit them, they’re a scrappy fast team and we didn’t react to that.”
Valencia was the undefeated Foothill League champion this season and helped make school history by combining with the boys team to make it the first time that the girls and boys basketball teams were both undefeated league champs in the same season.
“We lost this one but we had an incredible season,” said Honaker. “Let’s focus on the positive of the whole season. We had one bad quarter and then a mental collapse, a physical collapse, but you can’t be upset when we have an entire season of really good things.”