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Centurions defense halts upstart West Ranch team

Posted: February 3, 2009 10:00 p.m.
Updated: February 4, 2009 4:59 a.m.
 
In the brief three-year varsity history of the West Ranch girls basketball program, no game was bigger than Tuesday night’s.

But Saugus used the occasion to get the inside track on a Foothill League title.

In a battle of first-place teams, the Centurions used suffocating defense to take out the fledgling Wildcats 54-38 at West Ranch High.

“We knew what was at stake and we just came out flat,” said West Ranch head coach Randy Smith.

The Wildcats had come into the game with a surprising 5-1 mark in league play.

But Saugus (13-10, 6-1) used tough man-to-man defense to turn 21 Wildcat turnovers into multiple transition buckets and hold West Ranch (12-10, 5-2) to its second-lowest point total of the season.

“Defense was what we focused on most today,” said Saugus’ Nicole Hicks. “We knew if they couldn’t score, they couldn’t win.”

Hicks led all scorers with 24 points.

With that mindset, Saugus slowed the Wildcats to just six first-half baskets en route to Saugus taking a 24-19 lead into the break.

In the third quarter, West Ranch opened the period on a 5-0 run, with all five coming from Kaylyn Tarver, and the Wildcats tied the game for the first time at 24-24.

“I thought we could make a push,” Smith said. “Which we did, but then a few plays later, Saugus was back up.”

Those few plays were thanks to the defense of the Centurions, and after Centurion point guard Amanda Scholl nailed a 3-pointer, Saugus was back up by five and maintained the lead into the fourth.

Then, it was time for Gabby Conn and Hicks to put the game away for Saugus in the final stanza.

With Conn forcing the issue on defense, Hicks became the benefactor on offense as she dropped in 13 fourth quarter points.

“Nicole (Hicks) and Gabby (Conn) come as a tandem,” said Saugus head coach Kent Eaton. “They really know how to turn it on. They are awesome together.

“Our plan was to play good team defense and if you force passes they don’t want to make, then you force easy turnovers,” Eaton said.

It wasn’t until the fourth when Saugus finally took advantage of them and turned on the pressure by opening the quarter on a 12-5 run.

Conn added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Erin Ortiz scored 16 to lead the Wildcats.

Now, Saugus stands alone in first but still face three difficult games ahead.

“We have to keep building our momentum,” Eaton said. “We can’t take for granted anything. If we want the championship we have to go out and get it.”

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