Saugus girls’ basketball falls short in quarterfinals to Torrance 

Saugus center Destiny Onovo (22) dribbles the ball against Torrance's Bella Roosa (25) during the third quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Saugus center Destiny Onovo (22) dribbles the ball against Torrance's Bella Roosa (25) during the third quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
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Saugus girls’ basketball head coach Anthony Falasca needed a minute to collect himself. 

After watching his Centurions (21-10) battle for 32 minutes against the Torrance Tartars in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs at home on Wednesday, only to come up short in the end, the realization that the season was over, that he was saying goodbye to his two seniors, Destiny Onovo and Julie Phillips, was settling in. 

“You don’t find another one of those,” Falasca said of Onovo. “You hope that someone can live up to the things that she did.” 

Trailing 29-28 at the half, Onovo took over in the second half with 12 points and became the Centurions’ primary ball handler, but the Tartars (16-13) used an efficient and balanced approach to down the Centurions, 61-51. 

Onovo finished with a game-high 23 points, six rebounds, five steals, two assists and a block. 

Saugus power forward Brianna Burroughs (21) drives past Torrance's Kaya Choi (45) during the second quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Saugus power forward Brianna Burroughs (21) drives past Torrance’s Kaya Choi (45) during the second quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

While not as prolific in the scoring column, Phillips gave the Centurions energy and a couple of big buckets in the first half before giving way in the second half to some of the younger players. She finished with six points and two rebounds. 

“She got the captain this year and she ran with it,” Falasca said. “She wanted to show the girls by example how to prepare for every game and how to prepare for practice. She shows up early, she stays late. She puts the time in. I think these underclassmen saw that, and towards the end of the season, we had underclassmen that (previously) never stayed to shoot after, they were staying and shooting after with her.” 

Torrance gave the Centurions fits throughout the game as the Tartars were seemingly everywhere on the offensive end of the floor. Quick passes and constant movement had the Centurions chasing shadows and finding themselves late to close out on multiple occasions. 

Saugus point guard EvaMarie Rios (13) jumps up for a shot against Torrance's Nadia Suarez (1) during the fourth quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Saugus point guard EvaMarie Rios (13) jumps up for a shot against Torrance’s Nadia Suarez (1) during the fourth quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Torrance’s Monica Villanueva hit four 3-pointers in the first half to pace the Tartars and set the tone. She would finish with 22 points and six 3-pointers. 

Falasca said the Centurions practiced for this game by using only four defenders to mimic the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed. 

“They move the ball like that thing is on a string,” Falasca said. “We didn’t see any deflection and steals. We probably got single digits today when we’re used to getting 15 to 20, and that was a huge thing for us defensively is not being able to get hands on balls and create offense for us.” 

Falasca told his team that the next step for the program would be adding that sort of green-light shooter and said he’d definitely be working with his players in the offseason to get them to that level. 

Saugus point guard Samantha Cortez (3) possesses the ball against Torrance's Monica Villanueva (12) during the first quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Saugus point guard Samantha Cortez (3) possesses the ball against Torrance’s Monica Villanueva (12) during the first quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“You’re never out of a game with a shooter like that,” Falasca said. “We talked about this in the locker room. Next year we’re gonna shoot the ball better, and one or two of us are going to be that.” 

While the Centurions were able to answer in the first half, the Tartars continued to play their game in the second half and started it on an 8-0 run. Led by Onovo, who took over as point guard on most possessions, the Centurions were able to keep things close throughout but were never able to get over the hump. 

“I called a timeout in the third quarter and I pulled (Onovo) over and I said, ‘This is your time. Throw us all on your back and do whatever you got to do to get us this win,’” Falasca said. “And we had chances. We had a steal with six minutes left, five minutes left, and we came down, missed a layup, they got a rebound, went down and scored. So now it’s a six-point game. I can name off three or four different possessions that if they go the other way, we might be having a different conversation right now.” 

Villanueva didn’t have quite the same success shooting in the second half, but the Tartars had a different solution in Bella Roosa, who scored 10 of her 14 points in the final two frames. 

“It’s like our Destiny,” Falasca said. “She does everything.” 

Saugus celebrates a point during the fourth quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Saugus celebrates a point during the fourth quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Saugus made it a one-point game with just under 2:30 to play in the fourth after sophomore EvaMarie Rios hit a runner in the lane and followed it up with a free throw to make it 52-51. Torrance immediately answered with two quick buckets to extend the lead and shut Saugus out the rest of the way. 

One of four sophomores on the court at the end of the game along with Onovo, Rios is likely to be a cornerstone of a Saugus program that is looking to be a force in the next couple of years. 

Rios finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists, playing off the ball for much of the second half. Brianna Burroughs added five points and six rebounds while Samantha Cortez had five points, four rebounds, three steals and three assists. 

Saugus center Destiny Onovo (22) jumps up for a shot against Torrance's Kaya Choi (45) during the second quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Saugus center Destiny Onovo (22) jumps up for a shot against Torrance’s Kaya Choi (45) during the second quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“I look at them and they get two more years to get better and grow,” Onovo said. “And I’m so excited for what the future of Saugus will hold and I’m glad I got to be a part of that team with them.” 

It’s been quite the first two seasons as head coach for Falasca. He was named the head coach after last season had already started, and less than two years later, his Centurions have made the playoffs in each season and have two playoff wins to show for themselves. 

And while it was not the ending she was hoping for, Onovo knows that she and her teammates battled for everything they have accomplished. 

“The last year and a half has just been a roller coaster,” Onovo said. “I never imagined we’d get as far as we did. And I wish we could have kept going farther, but I’m glad that this was what we got. I don’t regret anything. And I don’t wish I could change anything, except for maybe going further.” 

Saugus power forward Natalie Weathers (23) passes the ball against Torrance's Kennedy Turner (50) during the first quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Saugus power forward Natalie Weathers (23) passes the ball against Torrance’s Kennedy Turner (50) during the first quarter of the CIF quarterfinals at Saugus High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

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