Canyon Cowboys girls’ basketball had a defensively dominating opening quarter against the Valencia Vikings.
The Cowboys registered five steals in the first few minutes of play, which led to a comfortable lead that Canyon was able to hold onto and close out the game with a 60-47 win on Friday.
The Vikings (10-16, 6-5) played a much tighter game and cut the deficit to single digits a few times but were never able to pull in front of Canyon (13-12, 8-2), which led the whole night.
Senior Koko Booker and freshman Taylor Ford led the defensive efforts with three-steal nights each. Ford also gave the team a huge boost in the first half, scoring 10 of her 12 points.
“We had an incredible practice yesterday, probably one of the best practices of our season,” said Cowboys coach Jessica Haayer. “It was just awesome to see yesterday’s practice transition to today, because yesterday was probably one of the best practices that we’ve had in a long time. The kids were flying around and that’s exactly how we started, which was amazing. They did everything that I asked for.”
Senior captain Josie Regez took over the scoring in the second half and finished with a team-high 19 points.
The game marked the return of Canyon freshman Isabella Escribano, who had missed nearly two weeks after sustaining a head injury against Saugus.
Escribano looked like she hadn’t missed a beat as she knocked down three of her game-high five 3-pointers in the first half. The freshman noted her team has dealt with injuries all year so finally seeing Canyon at full strength led to some high energy.
“Energy was definitely high,” Escribano said. “Everybody’s back healthy. Josie’s missed some games, I’ve missed some games. So just for us to officially be back with everybody healthy, we played better, everybody was involved. We play better when everybody’s there.”
Escribano made her return on the fourth-year anniversary of the death of NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant. Escribano spent years in the Mamba Academy, where she played under Bryant. The freshman was unsure if she’d make her return on Friday but after realizing what day it was, she felt it was time.
“I was just talking to my brother and I said, ‘If Kobe was here, I know he would have told me to go back out there,’” Escribano said. “It wasn’t just for me, that game was important for my healthy recovery, but that game was for him.”
The freshman guard looked like she hadn’t missed a beat as she knocked down a game-high five 3-pointers while also adding four rebounds, two assists and tight defense on Valencia guard Libby Oxciano.
Oxciano got going in the second half, after the team got more aggressive and forced Canyon into some foul trouble. Oxciano, a Redlands commit, had a couple tough finishes on shots through contact and finished with 10 points, six boards and two steals.
After a sloppy first quarter, Vikings coach Jared Honig saw his team control the ball and slash down on their own turnovers.
“I think we started taking care of the ball better and we got a shot each time down,” Honig said. “Whether we made it or missed it, at least we’re getting shot attempts, which is what we’re looking for. We kept pace pretty well after the first quarter and we were a little bit more ready to play … We’re right there and we battled back. I was really proud of the effort.”
Valencia got a huge boost from sophomore Cara McKell, who made her presence felt in the paint and in transition.
McKell poured in a game-high 24 points and 15 rebounds along with a block and a steal.
The Vikings got back into the game late in the second half, as the team’s defensive press started causing problems for Canyon. McKell feasted on points in transition while Oxciano and freshman Kiera McLaughlin also got in some late scoring.
Both teams are already locks for the playoffs already with the final week of the regular season approaching. However, both teams also feature mainly young rosters with senior leadership. Valencia and Canyon will obviously look for big postseason runs for a shot at a title and for more time with their senior leaders.
“We’re definitely inclining,” Escribano said. “I feel like our chemistry is getting better. Every time we play or practice together, we’re like sisters … We want to play as hard as we can. We have a lot of seniors on the team so we know they’re not gonna be here next year, so we want to enjoy every minute, every practice and every game we can with them. Our mindset is to play hard and have fun with each other, and that’s just getting us better every day.”
Canyon returns home to host Castaic on Tuesday, while Valencia heads to Golden Valley. Both games tip off at 5 p.m.