On the 15th day of February, the Saugus girls basketball team secured its 15th straight win and captured its first playoff win this season.
“It was the most exciting game I’ve been in this year, so far,” said Saugus head coach Jason Conn. “It shows you what a great team they are. They’ve now won 15 games in a row, an all-time Saugus record. Absolutely phenomenal.”
The Centurions came back strong after a first-round bye and carried the momentum from an undefeated league season into their 70-65 win over St. Anthony Saturday night at Saugus High School.
It seemed as if the girls never stepped off the court. The momentum from a 10-0 league title carried straight through the first quarter and rocketed Saugus to a 24-11 lead at the end of the first act.
“You never know how we’re going to go from league, on a really big high, and all the hype and everything to a first-round playoff game was incredible,” Conn said. “You never know if you’re going to get a little nervous. The girls were, to start, but you’d never know it. They go out and they score 24 points in the first quarter which was absolutely incredible. It was a great transition from everything they did.”
Senior Monique Febles was a force to be reckoned with as she led the Centurions. She was all over the court and tallied 23 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals. She led her team in both points and assists.
“I’m a little tired now, I have to admit,” Febles said. “We’ve been practicing so hard for this. This is just one step to our final goal. This week I’ve been going hard, my team has been going hard and we’ve been preparing for every game.”
Seniors Libbie McMahan and Eden MacKenzie were the other two faces to the three-headed monster the Centurions unleashed on the Saints Saturday night. McMahan had 19 points, five assists and a team-leading eight rebounds.
“I wasn’t really focused on scoring much,” McMahan said. “I was mostly focused on getting people who are hot the ball.”
MacKenzie was another point leader with 18 of her own, including four triples.
Early on, it looked like the Centurions were destined to run away with the game and win big. However, St. Anthony is too good of a team to allow that.
The Saints outscored the Centurions 22-15 in the second quarter to bring the score within two possessions at halftime.
Seniors Hannah Bailey (14 points, five rebounds) and Emily Perez (19 points) of St. Anthony gave the Saugus girls headaches from range. The duo knocked down five 3-pointers in the second quarter, four of which were on back-to-back possessions to narrow the gap.
“We really worked on that the whole week because we had a feeling we were going to play them, so we were trying to get out on the threes,” McMahan said of defending the perimeter. “In the moment, its hard. We just made the adjustment and went back to our 1-3-1 and worried less about inside and worried more about the outside.”
Despite difficulty defending the perimeter, the Centurions managed to keep themselves in front and create overwhelming adversity for the Saints.
“My girls, I’m just so proud of them,” Conn said. “They’re phenomenal. Every time (St. Anthony) made a run, they made a run, too. (St. Anthony) got to within four and we just kept fighting and fighting and fighting.”
With two seconds remaining, the Saints missed a shot and failed to keep control on the rebound. They knocked it out of bounds and gave possession to the Centurions. As the curtains closed, Conn turned around and gave his metaphorical bow, pumping up the Centurions after a big win.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Conn said. “I had been nervous all day. I knew how good St. Anthony is. I knew that the emotion was really going to be high. When you get a crowd like this, you want to acknowledge them, and that’s what I was doing, acknowledging the crowd.”
Saugus will advance to the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Ford Girls Basketball Division 2AA Championships. They will take on Fairmont Prep at Saugus High School at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
“We’re playing for something bigger this year and hopefully we’re going to go all the way,” McMahan said.