Saugus Centurions girls’ basketball won its first playoff game in four years on Thursday.
The Centurions emerged victorious on the road, defeating the Irvine Vaqueros, 52-43.
The Division 3AA battle was back and forth throughout. Saugus (20-9) received a huge lift from sophomore point guard EvaMarie Rios to close out the game.
Rios scored 14 of her 20 points in the final period, mostly behind some strong outside shooting as the sophomore drilled three clutch 3-pointers to put Irvine (14-13) away.
Rios also tallied four rebounds, five assists and three steals in the win.
The Centurion defense finished the game strong with a fantastic close-out performance. Saugus allowed just seven points in the fourth, while its sophomore organically kept finding buckets.
The playoff win was the first for every member of the Saugus team and the first for head coach Anthony Falasca.
“It’s our first playoff win for every single girl in our program,” Falasca said in a phone interview. “I haven’t won a playoff game since 2020 as an assistant. I caught myself when the buzzer went off, I just smiled. I looked at them and I just watched them enjoy them because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. Yeah, we want to win but want to have some fun doing it.”
The Centurions began the game a tad stagnant, but Falasca expected something along the lines of a slow start after the day the team had.
Saugus was initially scheduled to head down to Irvine at 2 p.m. but was left waiting for a bus for more than an hour. The team was repeatedly told the bus was inbound but after 3 p.m. the team decided to caravan down to Irvine with the help of coaches, players and team parents.
The delay caused the team to run into traffic and arrive 20 minutes before the already delayed tip-off.
The Centurions shook off the slow start early in the first quarter and were able to pull ahead by double digits in the second. However, multiple turnovers and a Vaquero halfcourt buzzer beater cut the lead to just three points.
Irvine then adjusted in the third quarter and found success attacking the rim, while Saugus focused on limiting shots from the perimeter. Vaqueros sophomore Kyara Vargas was lethal inside and killed the Centurions on the interior.
Once Saugus buckled down in the fourth, the team had the win in its sight. Falasca called one last timeout.
“I got goosebumps in our last timeout,” Falasca said. “I told them, ‘Let’s go do what we do.’”
Saugus had a pair of stellar interior performances from its front court. Senior Destiny Onovo made an impact in the paint with another double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore forward Natalie Weathers also stepped up and added 10 points and eight rebounds.
“We’ve been holding our breath waiting for (Weathers) to be what we know she can be,” Falasca said. “Tonight, she showed up.”
The Centurions will now move on to the second round and host the Burroughs Burros of Ridgecrest (17-6).
Burroughs extended its win streak to eight games in its playoff win over Valencia of Placentia.
Saugus High School will host its winter formal on Saturday night so the game will be played at Golden Valley High School.
Falasca knows his team is tired after playing 28 games this season but after getting a taste of a postseason victory, the Centurions want another. The coach believes his team is playing lights-out for one another with some standout chemistry.
“We had a talk at the end of the season about this being the second season,” Falasca said. “In basketball, anything can happen. Obviously with all the COVID stuff and injuries, you never know when your last game will be. You never know if seniors are going to play next year at the college level. Our break is 1-2-3, Saugus, 4-5-6 family. We fight for the ones that might not play this game at high school or college level. We’re bought in and we’re gelling better than any team that I’ve been a part of.”
Saugus takes on Burroughs on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Golden Valley High School.