Verdugo Hills falls to Notre Dame in the Northeast Valley Tournament Championship
The Notre Dame Knights were the clear favorites to win the Northeast Valley Tournament Championship. After all, they entered the game with an unblemished 11-0 record, beating their opponents by 24 points on average. Plain and simple, Notre Dame is a fantastic squad, and the Verdugo Hills girls were going to need to put together their best performance of the season to cap off their own unblemished tournament run. While the effort was ever present, the execution at various times was not, and ultimately the Dons fell, 60-51, taking second place in the Northeast Valley Tournament. “We played well against a very good team,” said Coach Kevin Peterson-Henry after the game. “We just didn’t constantly sustain our efficiency.”
Right out of the gate, the Knights showed why they are considered one of the top teams in the state. The exhibited razor-sharp execution on the offensive end that caused confusion for the Verdugo Hills defenders, leading to high percentage shots at the rim. At the defensive end of the floor, the Knights ball pressure knocked Verdugo out of sync and caused them to take rushed shots. The Dons shot 3-10 from the field in the first quarter, while being held to just 6 points by Notre Dame.
The second quarter saw more of the same struggles on the defensive end for Verdugo Hills as the Notre Dame continued to apply pressure with their ability to execute off their signature curl action around the basket. The Notre Dame front court also did a good job keeping the Dons off the boards, while creating easy second shots for themselves. Offensively, Verdugo Hills was able to shake off the slow start to the game as their guards kicked it into gear and became more assertive at the basket and behind the arc. Moriah Mosely and Nicole Vanegas were able to knock down a three-point field goal each, while forward Morriah Mbachu was able to find offense, cleaning up the glass, and also knocking down a pair of free throws. While the momentum and Notre Dame's execution on both ends made it feel like the game was out of hand, the grit and toughness of the Dons kept them in it, trailing 31-22 at the halftime break.
The second half began as turbulent for Verdugo Hills as the beginning of the game was. Notre Dame came out firing, shooting well from behind the arc. They began the quarter with a 10-3 run, while knocking down 5 threes in the period. The Knights interior defense suffocated the Dons attempts at converting in the paint. The lead ballooned as large as 16 at one point in the quarter, before Verdugo Hills began to turn things around.
The tide in this ballgame began to change at the outset of the fourth quarter, when the Dons picked up where they left off at the end of the third period, making aggressive plays on the defensive end of the floor, which caused the Knights to turn the ball over and take heavily contested shots. The Dons gave themselves a chance to get back into the ballgame, cutting the deficit as low as 7 points with 4 minutes to go, but shots just would not fall for them.
The unsung hero of the contest was Dons Senior Guard Ayana Peterson-Henry, who, in a losing effort, finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists, falling three assists short of a triple-double.
Moral victories don’t win trophies, but there is a lot for the Verdugo Hills girls Varsity to take with them as they move forward this season. The Dons will walk away from this tournament and the early slew of contests with a 6-3 record, with their three losses coming to Hesperia, Canyon and Notre Dame, three schools with a combined 26-4 record on the year so far. The effort the girls exhibited against talented opposition could be the precursor to more success in coming weeks. “We’ve really improved over these two weeks and we’re in rhythm and ready to go,” said Coach Peterson-Henry. “Playing against good competition is invaluable in our preparation.”
The week ahead will continue to test the mettle of the Dons, as they will play four games in a five-day stretch. The Dons will face challenges from opponents the likes of an undefeated Chatsworth and a league matchup against Arleta, a team many expected to give Verdugo Hills a real challenge for the East Valley league title. “These games coming up are big for us and I’m glad we have gotten 9 games under our belt leading into this stretch, "remarked Coach Peterson-Henry on the team's upcoming stretch.
Verdugo Hills will take the floor again on December 13th on the road against the Wilson Mules at 4 pm.