A terrific season for Saugus Centurion boys’ basketball ended on Wednesday after a home playoff loss to the Rancho Cucamonga Cougars.
Rancho Cucamonga won the game, 72-56, behind standout performances from Aaron Glass and Jerimyah Smith.
Glass, a sophomore, put on a show in the second quarter, scoring 16 of his game-high 31 points. Smith was a problem on the interior, where he registered the bulk of his 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Saugus (16-13) was undersized but still played tough on-ball defense while fighting for rebounds.
“We came out hot but unfortunately they were just too big and too athletic of a team,” said Saugus guard Max Tengan. “We should have done a better job of cleaning up the boards but we fought hard.”
Tengan finished his high school career with an 18-point and two-steal night.
The Centurions missed their first four shots but immediately set the tone for the rest of the half. The Centurion defensive efforts led to a 16-2 run where the team forced tough shots and scored in transition.
Saugus head coach Alfredo Manzano believed great ball movement was the key to that early run.
“We didn’t settle on threes, we attacked the basket,” Manzano said. “We got into the bonus really quick. Then all of a sudden we went back to some bad habits. We’re open on the first look and taking it, and we’re not a team that can do that. So, we want ball movement, we want ball reversal. We want to attack other teams’ closeouts, and that just didn’t happen after that.”
The Cougars (22-7) answered in the second quarter and erupted for 30 points to take a 41-33 lead at halftime.
Rancho never let off the gas and while Saugus cut the double-digit deficit down to just nine, the Cougars held on to put away Saugus behind solid rebounding nights from all over Rancho’s roster.
“They’ve got a lot of size and athleticism,” Manzano said. “Their guards do a really good job of rebounding the ball. I’ve seen a lot of film on them. And I think we did what we could early and just like anything else, size just got to us. They were getting those offensive rebounds. They were getting second, third and fourth opportunities to score in one possession.”
The Blue Crew never said die and made their presence felt throughout the game. One of the student section’s loudest moments came in the final minute of play. Rancho had the game in hand but the crowd erupted as senior reserve Jack Nicholson buried a jump shot in his short time on the floor.
Rancho will now return home to host the Beverly Hills Normans on Friday.
For Saugus, junior starters Justin Perez, Matthew Correa and Peter Burton will return to the team next season.
Burton is a defensive hound and was all over the stat sheet on Wednesday, finishing with nine points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals. Perez has a tough inside game and has shown he is one of the better interior players in the Foothill League, while Correa is a solid addition at the two-guard spot.
The three were crucial in an unexpectedly strong season for the Centurions. Saugus graduated nine seniors last year, making the 2022-23 season seemingly a rebuild year. Thanks to a few transfers, Saugus finished second in the Foothill League for the sixth straight year. Manzano was proud of his team’s strides this season as he will see yet another group of seniors go on to live their dreams and play college basketball.
“There were no expectations this year for us,” Manzano said. “People had us probably second to last or third to last and we ended up getting second place in league. So, I would say that’s a big accomplishment and these guys got to experience a lot of great competition. This opens doors even more for playing good competition and having good games. So that’s what counts to me. We expose kids and get them some looks to get their college education paid for.”