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Prep basketball: Saugus works it

Centurions move on to championship game of annual Canyon Classic

Posted: December 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Saugus power forward Stephen Jones (25) shoots over Highland's Tommie Groce on Friday night at Canyon High in the Canyon Classic tournament. Jones led Saugus with 11 points in his team's victory.

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You want to call them scrappy or blue-collared, but those are just cliches when talking about Saugus teams.

But legitimately, Saugus was scrappy and blue-collared on Friday night in the Canyon Classic Tournament at Canyon High.

The Centurions defeated Highland of Palmdale 60-43 relying on a quick backcourt that closed passing lanes on defense, post play on offense in the second half and an everybody-in mentality.

Ten different players scored for Saugus, including power forward Stephen Jones, who led the team with 11 points coming off the bench.

“I say hard-working,” said Saugus head coach Derek Ballard on how he describes his team. “It’s true. This year’s team is a little different. We feel like we have a lot more weapons. We’re not seeing it come from one or two guys. You look at the scorebook down the line and it’s 10, nine, eight, seven, seven (points).”

Saugus (3-0) was crisp on its zone defense throughout the game, closing off the middle and forcing the Bulldogs to try their hand outside.

The Cents gave them plenty of opportunities early, though, as in the first quarter Saugus was sloppy.

The Centurions turned the ball over four times in the game’s first four minutes and trailed 8-0.

At the same time, Saugus struggled to get the ball in the basket.

Yet Highland (4-4) could not run away early because of its own rough shooting.

The Bulldogs were only 3-of-12 from the field in the first period and led 9-4.

Saugus completely turned things around in the second quarter and forced seven Bulldogs turnovers and outscored Highland 19-5 to take a 23-14 lead into halftime.

Highland point guard Davonte Cleveland drew his third foul in the second quarter, which changed his team’s fortunes, said Highland head coach Jeff Smith.

“Him sitting there in the second quarter changed the game,” Smith said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight. They played good defense and we didn’t execute well.”

Especially on defense in the second half.

Saugus was scoring by attacking the basket in the first half, but two players keyed the offense from the same location inside in the second — Jones and fellow power forward Amir Mirtabatabaie.

Jones backed his defenders down low and scored four buckets inside in the third quarter and scored nine points in the frame.

Mirtabatabaie scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

“Coach said, ‘Be big down low,’” Jones said of the encouragement he received after a self-labeled mistake-riddled first quarter. “Especially against this team. They weren’t big down low. We had to be productive down low.”

The offense for Highland came from Charles Dixon-Brady, who scored a game high 17 points, including 12 on 3-pointers in the second half.

On the flip side, he was only 6-of-18 from the field.

Saugus turned the ball over just five times in quarters two through four compared to Highland’s 14.

Now Saugus gets the joy of playing Foothill League rival Canyon in the championship game of the tournament tonight at 6:30 p.m.

“No. No. I absolutely hate it,” Ballard said with a smile on his face of facing Canyon this early before league play. “You don’t want the other team to see what you’ve got. It’s too much stress this early in the season.”



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