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Toughness tested early

Centurions girls hoops has to hold off a late charge in Valencia tourney

Posted: December 3, 2008 11:09 p.m.
Updated: December 4, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Saugus High basketball player Nicole Hicks, left, goes up for a shot in the third quarter against Taft High at Valencia High Wednesday.

 
The Saugus girls basketball team is well aware of how physical things can get in the Foothill League.

Wednesday's matchup with Taft gave the Centurions a look at how they would react under such circumstances.

They earned a rave review.

Gabby Conn hit two clinching free throws with 19 seconds left and Saugus kept its composure down the stretch to earn a 42-36 victory over Taft at the Valencia High Five Classic at Valencia High School.

Trailing by nine with two minutes to go, the Toreadors went on a 7-2 run by taking advantage of missed free throws and empty offensive possessions, but couldn't find their way past Saugus in the end.

"I'm very happy," said Saugus first-year head coach Kent Eaton. "We could play smarter, but we're playing tough. They pushed us around a little bit, and we held tight. Some calls didn't go our way and we didn't lose our cool. That's the toughness I like to see."

Conn posted 18 points to lead all scorers and the Centurions (2-0) frustrated Taft by breaking its full-court traps with good ball movement.

Once into the offense, Saugus' size advantage came into play, and Katelyn Smither teamed with Conn to dominate the glass at both ends of the court.

"Taft is a tough team," Eaton said. "They've got some good ballplayers on their team. I believe they expect to do well in their league, so I'm extremely happy."

The Toreadors (1-1) tried to use their athleticism by attacking the basket, but Saugus set up its zone and forced them into outside shots.

The strategy became more effective as the game wore on, with Taft frequently settling for long jumpers in the second half.

An 8-of-13 mark from the foul line, however, helped Taft maintain striking distance during its fourth-quarter surge. Saugus wasn't as efficient late in the game, but Conn's free throws stretched the lead to 41-36, and Amanda Scholl hit another to set the final.

The Centurions' height had an impact right from the opening tip, and they held a steady lead throughout the entire game after giving up just four points in the first quarter.

Saugus held Taft scoreless for the first 4:20 of the second half and a 10-point lead after three quarters proved to be a deficit Taft couldn't overcome.

Kaylynn Martin scored eight points in support of Conn, while Smither had seven. Breanna Burton finished with eight points to pace Taft, while Annessa De La Cruz scored seven and Joy Hubbard wound up with six.

What matters most to Saugus, however, is how it responded to a physical team this early in the season.

"It's certainly a good opportunity to play against a hard-nosed team like that," Eaton said. "We've got some good teams in our league, so we need to be prepared to bang a little bit and tough it out, which is what we did."

Saugus will square off gainst Nordhoff today at the High Five Classic.

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