Saugus girls basketball has gotten a monkey off its back, but it’s been replaced with a target.
For the first time in eight years, the Centurions beat Valencia at Valencia High School on Friday night, 56-43. Saugus last beat the Vikings on Jan. 17, 2012. It was a win that was years in the making, and it was made even sweeter by the fact that the Vikings were the reigning Foothill League champions.
“Huge,” said Cents senior Monique Febles. “I’ve been playing here four years now. It’s my last year. We haven’t beaten them for all three years, so coming out here tonight, I think it was just one step to getting our final goal, which is league. Winning league.”
Saugus (13-4 overall, 1-0 in Foothill League) started the game playing man defense, which isn’t their usual scheme. The Centurions mounted a 10-4 lead on a 3-pointer from Eden MacKenzie, but Valencia’s Mailey Ballard sank a 3 of her own to cut the deficit to 10-7.
The Cents held on to that lead for most of the opening frame until Audrey Field came off the bench for the Vikings (10-7, 0-1) and scored on two straight possessions to put her team cup 15-14 heading into the second quarter.
A change in defense helped Saugus get back on track. The Cents switched to zone to limit Valencia’s best shooters, like Ballard, and saw results.
“It was getting out there and knowing who the shooters were, where we needed to go and this is what we do. We play great defense,” said Cents coach Jason Conn. “We are a great defensive team. I went man to start I wanted to mix it up because they know we only play zone.”
Riley Phipps opened up the second-quarter scoring with a basket at the six-minute mark. She followed up with two 3-pointers in the rest of the stanza to continue her hot shooting from the first quarter. By the end of the game, the junior had paced the Cents with 14 points.
Last season when Saugus played Valencia, Phipps had only gotten five minutes of playing time due to inexperience and injury. The difference this year against the Vikings has been confidence.
“I’ve been really looking forward to this game because I know a few people on the team,” Phipps said. “I think I’ve just been looking forward to this. Everyone has and it’s been our main goal, so it feels good.”
Saugus gave up just five points in the second quarter and headed into halftime with a 29-19 lead. On the other side of the break, the team kept up its defensive tenacity while generating offense.
Febles capitalized on a steal and took the ball in for a layup early in the frame, then Lulu Salloom scored her first points of the game on two free throws to increase the lead to 39-23.
Valencia was able to fight back as Marissa Howell put up two points then Nicole Weatherman broke free for a 3-pointer to bring the score to 39-35 with 1:34 left in the third quarter. It was a glimpse of the gritty, motivated play that coach Kevin Honaker is looking for this season.
“We had a great run, we came back,” Honaker said. “But I think we dug ourselves too big a hole, we’re just too tired. The Foothill’s about, really, toughness. It’s not about skill always. It’s really about who wants to grind it out and win every single possession.”
Saugus pulled away one final time in the four quarter. Febles hit a jumper with seven minutes to go in the game to make the score 47-35 and spark some momentum. Ballard and Weatherman were both able to drain a 3 before the game ended, but the Cents had already wrapped up the game.
“This was the game that set the tone for the rest of our season,” Conn said. “We know how good we are when we’re playing like that. So we know that we’re gonna have to take challenges come from everybody that we’re gonna play for the rest of the season.”
Saugus next hosts West Ranch at 5 p.m. on Friday. Valencia plays at Hart on the same date at 5 p.m.
Hart 48, Golden Valley 34
Evelin Herrera led the Indians (8-7, 1-0) with 16 points and eight rebounds, followed by Emma Allen who had 11 points and five rebounds. Leila Uribe added seven points, four assists and three steals and Vanessa Zavala had six points.
Imani McGee led the Grizzlies (6-8, 0-1) with 20 points and was 13-of-18 from the free-throw line. Freshman Milan added six points.
Golden Valley plays at Canyon on Friday at 5 p.m.
Canyon 66, West Ranch 17
Kiki Taufaasau scored 17 points, Genesis Gonzalez scored 11 points and Lucy Collins scored 10 for the Cowboys (14-5, 1-0) win at West Ranch (1-8, 0-1).