Saugus Centurions boys’ basketball started league play with a bang on Tuesday against the visiting Canyon Cowboys.
The Centurions improved on both sides of the ball throughout each quarter behind smothering defense, quick transition and selfless ball movement to earn the 86-62 win over Canyon.
Even with all the extra passes, Centurions senior Justin Perez had a field day, scoring a game-high 31 points along with six rebounds and a block.
“Last year, we didn’t move the ball a lot but this year we moved the ball quite a bit,” Perez said. “We have a lot better chemistry, better role players and move the ball around well. We make things happen and things flow.”
The win earned Saugus coach Alfredo Manzano his 100th career win for the Centurions. The coach was very pleased with his team’s ball movement.
“That just happened organically,” Manzano said of Perez’s 30-point game. “He didn’t need to hunt for shots. We know he’s the guy that could put up buckets and Peter (Burton) as well. That ball is gonna move and it’s gonna find one of them.”
Canyon (4-4, 0-1) had terrific energy to start the game and led for a majority of the first quarter. The Cowboys found solid open shots, most of which were coming off the hands of junior Eric Kubel.
Kubel has evolved from a pure shooter as a sophomore to a three-level scorer this season. The junior scored 16 of his 22 points in the first half and also led Canyon with five rebounds.
“For everyone that doesn’t know, that kid just stays in the gym every day,” said Cowboys coach Ali Monfared. “We have competitive, tough practices and at the end of the day, he’s still in there for like a good amount of time taking game-like shots. And that’s the thing I would just tell all these kids who are young. There’s no secret, you have to get game-like shots and work hard. That’s what Eric does.”
Saugus (4-1, 1-0) adjusted to Kubel’s hot hand by putting senior Peter Burton on the streaky guard. Burton slowed down his counterpart on defense, holding him scoreless in the third quarter, while also putting up 20 points on offense.
The Centurions were a little timid to start Foothill League play and took nearly two quarters to start playing their brand of basketball.
“The kids were so emotionally charged up and ready to go, I think it took them a half to get going,” Manzano said. “You could tell the ball wasn’t moving and the ball was stuck. Defensively, we weren’t moving right and credit to Canyon, they came out with tons of energy.”
Saugus’ newfound energy charged the team into halftime on an 11-1 run and the Cents later went on a 17-4 run in the third quarter.
Matt Correa finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists while junior Bryce Mejia added 10 points and three steals for the Cents.
Despite some struggles at the free throw line, Saugus put up a season-high 86 points, the program’s highest scoring output in a league game in two seasons.
Canyon’s starters all scored in the loss, and the bench still kept the offense running smoothly. Forward Sean Hernandez scored eight points off the bench while the speedy guard Solomon Sims added five points and three assists.
“We have some guys off the bench that we can play any time,” Monfared said. “We have a lot of depth and at the end of the day, I really think that once those guys get a lot more experience, they’re going to continue to get better. They bring so much energy and they bring so much passion.”
Manzano could’ve potentially hit 100 wins a few seasons ago. The coach has however insisted his program remain in the second highest division possible and has led Saugus into battle against some of the best teams in the section in his seven-year tenure. Nonetheless, Manzano credits everyone involved in the process.
“That’s a credit to everybody that’s played for me and the coaches that we’ve had,” Manzano said. “All the credit goes to them. At the end of the day, they’re the ones on the floor, putting the ball in the hoop and playing defense. I wasn’t even really aware of all this stuff. But when I do have time to think about it, I’m gonna just probably say, ‘Those were a hard 100 wins.’ We never ducked anybody and never tried to have a light schedule. It’s entering all the best tournaments that we’re capable of entering, playing Sierra Canyon when they call two weeks before the season officially starts. Everybody else thinks we’re crazy. So that right there makes it sweet. Knowing that every win has been against hard, tough competition.”
Saugus is off to a strong start this season. The Centurions reached the championship game of the Paul Sutton Tip-off tournament and are now 1-0 in Foothill League play. The roster may look a little different, but the team has played the same old Saugus defense.
“Tonight definitely showed what our season could look like,” Perez said. “We’re hoping for a great season and hoping for the best.”
Both teams return to league play on Friday at 6:30 p.m. as Saugus heads to Valencia and Canyon returns home to host West Ranch.
Monfared hopes to keep seeing his young team improve as he strives to guide Canyon back to the postseason for the third straight year.
“My main thing is just as we play every team, we learn,” Monfared said. “We’re gonna play Saugus again and we’ve struggled at Saugus for some reason. We’ll get a chance to play them at home in the second round of league and we’ll make some adjustments. The biggest thing I want to see in league is us just competing. React the right way, not get caught up in the crowd or the refs, not let a 4-0 run turn into a 12-0 run and not get caught up in our emotions because that’s what young players can do.”
Saugus on the other hand rosters eight seniors with a ton of Foothill League experience. So far, the Centurions have shown their 100-win coach that they have a shot at winning and will keep striving to get better throughout the marathon season.
“They’ve shown me that they’re willing to play together,” Manzano said “When they do, we’re gonna be really hard to beat.”