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Now it really counts

Saugus wins final tune-up before Foothill League begins on Tuesday

Posted: January 7, 2009 10:10 p.m.
Updated: January 8, 2009 4:30 a.m.
 

Whether you're describing Saugus' performance Wednesday or its season as a whole, one thing's for sure.

The Centurions are clicking at the right time.

Saugus' ball-hawking press gave West Covina fits and Mark Watanabe and Jawhar Purdy each scored 18 points in a 74-65 victory over the Bulldogs.

The game marked Saugus' final tune-up before Foothill League play begins next Tuesday, and the team is pulling together when it counts most.

"We're finally displaying some mental toughness, which we haven't had most of the season," said Saugus head coach Derek Ballard. "It's a nice time for it to show up as we go into league."

Trailing 63-62 late in the fourth quarter, Miles Orr and Watanabe hit driving layups before Orr stole an inbounds pass and scored again to give Saugus (8-7) a 68-63 lead.

The Bulldogs (7-8) turned the ball over their next two trips down the court and the Centurions turned the mistakes into four more points to put the game away.

"I think it's good for us," Watanabe said of his team's play down the stretch. "Because we're a new team, it's good to steal the momentum back going into league."

Saugus stole the momentum back in the first half as well.

West Covina jumped out to a nine-point lead after the opening quarter thanks mostly to the play of center Alonzo Nevarez, who scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the period.

The Centurions responded by hiking up their full-court press and exposing West Covina's erratic ball-handling, which led to numerous turnovers.

Watanabe and Purdy also kept the Bulldog defense on its heels by attacking the basket.

"They had a lot of gaps in their defense, so it was easy to drive to the hoop," Watanabe said, "And our coaches told us to push the ball up the court really fast and play up-tempo, so it was easy to get points."

Successive 3-pointers by Watanabe, Chris Gatewood and Jake Birkland gave Saugus a six-point lead at halftime, but West Covina did a better job of breaking the press in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs also heated up from the perimeter, shooting 75 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent overall. They also opened the fourth quarter on a 7-2 run.

From there, Saugus took over.

"It's just a matter of our guys having confidence in ourselves and what we do," Ballard said. "If we have that confidence, the sky's the limit. So hopefully we can take this momentum into league and do some damage with it."

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