Ahead of Foothill League play this season, Saugus girls basketball player Eden MacKenzie made a declaration that the Centurions were not going to lose any more games for the rest of the season.
The team stuck to MaKenzie’s words by beating Canyon 44-34 at Canyon on Friday to preserve their undefeated league record.
“Eden said a couple games ago, before league started, that we’re not going to lose a game,” said Saugus senior Libbie McMahan. “We all have that mentality of one game at a time and focus on who you’re playing the next game. So we just really wanted to get that win for the team.”
The game was the Cents’ closest of the league season, with the Cowboys (15-7 overall, 2-2 in Foothill League) controlling the pace of the game early on and limiting nearly all of Saugus’ shooters in the first half. McMahan was the only player on her team with a basket, scoring six points. The rest of the Centurions’ points came from free throws.
Saugus (17-4, 4-0) took a 6-0 lead on a layup from McMahan with 4:16 left in the first quarter, but Canyon picked up the scoring shortly after. A 3-pointer from Genesis Gonzalez and a basket from Kiki Taufaasau cut the deficit to 10-7 by the end of the first quarter.
A couple of free throws helped Canyon tie the game at 10-10 with 4:38 remaining in the second quarter. Shortly after, Saugus tied it at 15-15 on free throws, then Taufaasau made one last basket for a 19-19 tie heading into halftime.
Taufaasau also excelled in the rebound department as she was filling in for forward/center Chidinma Okafor, who did not play in Friday’s game.
“With Chidinma gone, it forces us to kind of play some other people and put people in positions that they’re not normally,” said Canyon coach Jessica Haayer. “I thought (Taufaasau’s) best thing was not necessarily scoring but the rebounding. I don’t know how many boards she ended up with tonight but in the first half we held them to one shot and that was it.”
Centurions point guard Monique Febles was also out for some of the first half as she was nearing foul trouble. She came back in the second half, though, and instantly made an impact.
The Cowboys took a 22-19 lead on a Gonzalez 3-pointer, then Lucy Collins tacked on two more points. Febles rejoined the Cents to score on a jumper to make it 24-21 and later made it 26-24 on a three-point play.
McMahan scored on a layup to tie the game at 26-26 with 3:44 left in the third quarter and Saugus was able to escape the frame with a 30-26 lead.
Saugus’ zone defense held strong throughout the game, forcing Canyon to shoot threes and getting turnovers when the Cents needed them.
“Today we shot probably 12 percent at most but the girls, they hung in there,” Saugus coach Jason Conn said. “They played hard and, of course, I always tell them how good our defense is. We won the game because of our defense.”
The Centurions were able to pull away in the final quarter. Taufaasau made two three’s, one of which came in the waning seconds of the game, but Saugus capitalized on free throw opportunities and some timely baskets from MacKenzie and McMahan.
Although the win didn’t come easy, Conn was happy for the challenge Canyon presented.
“You don’t want to win every game by 20, 30 points,” he said. “You want to have some tough games. You want to win them, yeah, but you want to have some tough games that make you work and they made us work tonight.”
Canyon plays at Valencia on Tuesday at 5 p.m., while Saugus plays at Hart on the same day at the same time.
Hart 59, West Ranch 29
Evelin Herrera scored seven points and added seven rebounds for the Indians (10-8, 3-1). Kayla Hourigan added nine points and seven rebounds and Emma Allen had nine points, five assists and eight rebounds. Leila Uribe rounded out the scoring with 11 points, three steals and three assists.
Hart plays at Saugus at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and the Wildcats (1-11, 0-4) are at Golden Valley at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.