Huddled together under their basket as a team before the season opener against Glendale High School at Glendale on Tuesday, the Saugus girls basketball let out a chant:
“Who are we? Saugus. Who are we? Saugus. Who are we? Saugus strong,” the team yelled out in unison.
Honoring the victims and playing for the Saugus community, the Centurions were not to be denied of a season-opening win, defeating the Nitros 67-41.
Eden MacKenzie set the tone, scoring a game-high 22 points, but it was her defense that sparked the team to the 26-point win on the road. MacKenzie recorded all five of her steals in the first half.
“I just felt like, with what happened with our school, that we needed to go out there and support our community and show them that we care and get this win,” MacKenzie said. “I just felt like, I don’t know, an adrenaline kick. I just wanted it, wanted it, wanted it and I could see that my teammates wanted it too. We started sharing the ball and it kept going in.”
On the day, the Centurions forced 23 steals with MacKenzie, Lulu Salloom and Monique Febles all finishing with five of more steals.
Saugus (1-0 overall) confused Glendale from start to finish mixing in press packages, half-court traps and intense on- and off-ball pressure that led to baskets on the other end.
“We can’t win without pressing,” said Saugus head coach Jason Conn. “In the press, not only did we get steals, but it wears them down. They are very good 3-point shooting team in Glendale and they weren’t able to get their legs and we were. I don’t know if it’s emotional, but we weren’t tired and we shot the ball lights-out today.”
Salloom provided energy throughout, fighting for tough rebounds and getting in between Glendale’s passing lanes to finish with three points, six rebounds and five steals.
Febles had a slow start to the game, but found her rhythm in the second quarter, pulling up for back-to-back jumpers in the lane to give Saugus a 29-17.
Febles finished the game with 16 points, six steals and seven assists.
Febles’ running mate, Libbie McMahan, caught fire in the second half after going scoreless in the first and finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
The game looked easy for Saugus, especially late in the third quarter when MacKenzie found a cutting Riley Phipps on the baseline to extend the Saugus lead to 50-33 and prompted MacKenzie to slap the floor in excitement.
“Eden was phenomenal, Mo bringing the ball up, coming in and hitting her shots and Libbie had zeo in the first half, comes out and gets 13, you can’t hold her down,” Conn said. “Riley came in and I had I don’t know how many rebounds.
“We moved the ball well and we played as a team tonight. The girls were focused before the game. My captain sent out a text saying, ‘we have worked too hard to get to this point, let’s do it for everybody.’ We came out and did it for everybody.”
Playing suffocating defense from the opening whistle to the final against Glendale (0-1), Saugus allowed the home team to score just five points in the last quarter of play to win earn a season-opening 26-point win on the road.
“After what happened at Saugus and for them to come out here and play with that intensity, it’s phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” Conn said. “They came out, were focused, have been working really hard to get to this point and they wanted to make a statement for not only us, but for the people that perished at Saugus. They made their school very proud tonight, very proud.”
Saugus hosts Santa Monica at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.