Valencia Vikings girls basketball won a defensive dogfight of a game at home on Friday after holding the visiting Saugus Centurions without a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Valencia won the battle, 41-30, to even the series after Saugus took the first game earlier this season.
Friday night’s contest showed the future of Foothill League is bright as four freshmen started. Vikings forward Cara McKell is the team’s only freshman but led the way with game-highs 14 points and nine rebounds.
Cara’s older sister, senior Hailey McKell, was a crucial factor in holding Saugus to 30 points, matching the team’s lowest mark of the season. Hailey finished with seven points, six boards and three blocks.
“I feel like our defense was really good today,” Cara said. “We communicated really well. I think the defense carried us through this one.”
Saugus (10-11, 4-3) pressed throughout most of the game but the Vikings (12-7, 4-3) showed no issues breaking through. The Centurions were able to recover and get back in their halfcourt defense, forcing tough shots to start the game.
Centurions head coach Anthony Falasca was thrilled with team’s defensive performance on the bittersweet night.
“Defensively, we did what we wanted to do,” Falasca said. “Offensively, we just couldn’t make it happen today.”
Saugus took the lead after burying the first shot of the game but couldn’t jump back on Valencia until the third quarter. The Centurions amped up their defense and started flying down the floor in transition, leading to a 7-0 run.
Junior Destiny Onovo led the Centurions with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Valencia countered when it needed to and got right back in front every time Saugus took a brief lead.
The Vikings’ defense was solid throughout the game but the team really rode the momentum in the fourth when Saugus clanked every field goal. The Centurions posted four points in the final quarter from the free throw line but Valencia’s 14-point period was the most of the day. The Vikings were in control but senior Chelsea Besina’s third steal of the game would be the last nail in the coffin and put away Saugus in crunch time.
“Some of our stuff worked,” Falasca said. “We got the shots that we wanted but you’re not gonna win many games when you shoot in the lower 20 percentile. It’s tough to win those kinds of games.”
Valencia head coach Kevin Honaker knew round two with the Centurions would be a bruiser of a game, leading to their big word of the day selection.
“The big word on our board today was ‘dog’ and we wanted them to play like dogs,” Honaker said. “I think that’s the first game for four quarters we were all dogs.”
“We played our basketball defensively,” Honaker said. “We won’t even pretend we played a great offensive game tonight. But our defense was the best of the season. We really were in our positions really well tonight.”
Both teams now move into a tie for third in the Foothill League with five games left to get where they’d like to be.
Saugus will get back to the basics in practice on Monday just before a Tuesday road matchup at 5 p.m. at West Ranch.
“We’re gonna focus on the fundamentals,” Falasca said. “I think because we’re so young, we sometimes think that we can do things that we’re just not skilled enough to do yet. We try to play outside of our comfort zone and I think when we play inside of our comfort zone and do the things that we do well, we come out on the right side of games.”
Valencia will also be on the road Tuesday when the team heads to Castaic. The Vikings got the start they wanted to the second half of league play and now will hope to close down Canyon and Hart in the standings.
“It’s a great jumpstart to the second half of the season,” Honaker said. “We’ve had a really good four-week period. So, hopefully it just continues all the way through CIF. We have goals, we probably can’t get the No. 1 goal of Foothill League, but we can be a spoiler to people. And we can prepare ourselves for our own CIF run, which we hope we can do. And then just get better each and every week. And that’s what we’ve been doing.”