By Ryan Menzie
For The Signal
A matchup between the Saugus Centurions and the Canyon Cowboys gave the fans everything they could have asked for in a game to close out the season on Friday. The game provided crucial calls and no-calls by the referees, lead changes, tough defense and gritty play inside the paint.
The Centurions came out strong, finishing the quarter with a 13-4 lead. The Centurions looked poised to win their ninth game in a row but the Cowboys would not give up so easily. The Cowboys made a huge rally in the second quarter to tie up the game 17-17 before senior forward Riley Phipps scored a quick 5 points to stop the bleeding. The Centurions would go on to hold a 5-point lead into halftime.
“We’re a nice matchup for each other since there’s always a nice game to see between us because we matchup perfectly,” said Canyon coach Jessica Haayer. “We’re young and a lot of kids that were on the floor were either freshmen or sophomore. It’s a learning game for them.”
Haayer said the message to her team was defense, which is what got them rolling and led to a comeback. However, the Centurions would answer back with key buckets and tough threes. The intense game was further fueled by parents and fans in the stands agonizing over the officiating from the referees.
The Cowboys hung around thanks to the play from their sophomore guards Aaliyah Garcia and Jade Sims. Sims provided a spark off the bench, finishing the game with 9 points, seven of them coming in the second half. Garcia led the team with 12 points, scoring two 3-pointers in the second half while also providing tough defense and creating opportunities for her teammates to score.
The Cowboys held onto a 4-point lead heading into the fourth quarter but the strength of the 8-1 Centurions proved too much. The Centurions went on to outscore the Cowboys 24-9 in the fourth quarter to cap off the game.
“Our defense was phenomenal,” said Saugus coach Jason Conn. “The mentality to stop the comeback was for myself to relax and the team to relax and calm down. If I’m too aggressive, then they won’t see what needs to be done. I needed to relax and let the girls do their thing.”
The Centurions were able to close out the game and officially secure the league title following the lead from Phipps and senior forward Lorita Salloom. Phipps led the team with 17 points and was heavily relied on in the fourth quarter to provide a cushion to secure the win.
“We’ve been preparing for this, we needed to win this for league. We won it last year for the first time in several years,” said Phipps. “We came out, knew we needed to win this to tie with Valencia, and we did it. We knew they were going to give it their all and that really pushed us.”
Salloom controlled the tempo throughout the second half, scoring 11 of her 14 points while also dominating the clock with her ball handling. Salloom also provided help on the glass and pushed the ball up, creating easy buckets for her teammates in crunch time.
“I was just trying to stay calm the entire game, I knew Canyon was intense but I wanted to keep my cool,” said Salloom. “In games like this, it’s just important to tone the distractions out, you don’t want what the parents and refs are doing to get into your head. We just got to keep going, we’re going to make a run and we’re good enough to be where we are.”