Girls basketball CCS: Lady Mats advance after 55-52 win

MVHS builds a solid fourth quarter lead to overcome Oak Grove on Feb. 21

Co-captain senior Hitomi Sugimoto fights through the Oak Grove defense to find an open lane to the basket in the second quarter. Sugimoto scored five points as MVHS won its CCS first round game at Oak Grove High School 55-52 on Feb. 21. Photo by Dickson Tsai.

The Oak Grove Eagles have just cut MVHS’ six point lead to three. They have the ball out of bounds and can possibly tie the game.Suddenly, co-captain senior Steffanie Sum steals an errant inbounds pass with 47.7 seconds left, running down the court all alone to score the fast-break layup and ensure the Matadors’ victory — they are advancing to the second round of CCS.The Matadors (14-11) held off the Oak Grove Eagles (10-14) 55-52 at Oak Grove in their CCS first round match on Feb. 21. Sum led the team with 13 points, while junior Megan Tsao added 11 points and junior Nassim Moallem scored 10 points. MVHS’ full-court press rattled the Eagles team that defeated the Matadors 41-34 back in November.“We’ve played them before and we’ve really improved throughout the season,” Moallem said. “We really worked on what we needed to improve today and I think everything came together.”

The Matadors were out-rebounded the first three quarters against the taller Oak Grove team. Their pressure in the fourth quarter finally stopped the Eagles’ second chance opportunities and allowed their offense to build the decisive lead. Eagles senior Taylor France, junior Marilyn Ohiomu and junior Candy de los Reyes led the team with 13 points, but Ohiomu fouled out with 58.1 seconds remaining, limited to just two points in the fourth quarter.

“A lot of their points came from second shots,” head coach Sara Borelli said. “I think by the time we’ve finally kept up at the end of the third quarter to keep [Ohiomu] off the boards — that made the difference.”

Two minutes into the game, the Matadors broke the scoreless tie through Sum’s three-point shot. While Oak Grove had difficulty manufacturing points, the Matadors went on a 6-0 run to extend their lead to 9-2 and later a 12-7 lead to end the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Eagles took advantage of their offensive rebounds to tie the game at 16-16. The Matadors could not find solutions on defensive rebounding, giving up 19 points in the quarter. However, they caught a break as the Eagles went 2 for 10 from the free throw line in the half. The Eagles only led by one at halftime 26-25.

The Eagles continued to attack to build their biggest lead of the game, 32-25, with 6:15 left in the third quarter. However, Moallem, Tsao and Sugimoto helped the Matadors score six straight points to bring them to 33-34. Later, sophomore Tiffany Tsai added a three-point shot and a layup at 1:09 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 38-40.

With just one-tenth of a second on the clock, Eagles junior Candy de los Reyes made a critical mistake, fouling Sum as she shot behind the three-point line to give the Matadors a chance to take the lead. Sum made two of three to tie the game at 40-40.

“We talk about throughout the year how important free throws are to the game,” Borelli said. “By making those free throws, it changed the momentum.”

In the fourth quarter, Moallem and Tsao continued the MVHS run by scoring six straight points to open up the lead to 46-40. More importantly, the Matadors were able to apply pressure on the guards, forcing turnovers and preventing them from effectively passing into their taller post players.

“[The girls] picked up their D,” Borelli said. “The guards started putting a little bit more pressure on the outside.”

With 2:18 remaining, Candy de los Reyes hit a three-pointer from the top right corner to cut Oak Grove’s deficit to 53-49. A minute later, her twin senior Crystal de los Reyes only made one of two free throws to close MVHS’ lead to three.

Sugimoto missed a chance to close out the game when she missed two free throws at 58.1 seconds. Meanwhile, Ohiomu fouled out trying to stop her drive, and the Eagles lost their top rebounder for Oak Grove.

On the Eagles’ next possession, an errant inbounds pass caught Oak Grove junior Selena Moran off-guard, leading to a critical fast-break opportunity for Sum to increase the lead to 55-50 with less than 40 seconds remaining. Despite a late basket by Eagles senior Taylor France, the Matadors closed out the Eagles to win 55-52.

“We just really got to play our game,” Moallem said. “A lot of times our problem is that we play down to the other teams … If we play our game, work on what we need to do, then we’ll do well.”

The unseeded MVHS will face sixth-seed Salinas High School (17-7) for its second round match on Feb. 23. Last season, the Matadors advanced to the second round, but lost 44-58 to North Salinas High School.

UPDATE: The Matadors visited Salinas High School for the second-round game on Feb. 23 and lost 50-53. Game highlights and a box score for that match will be posted tomorrow.