Verdugo Hills suffers defeat at Taft

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Amid the toughest stretch of their early season schedule, the Verdugo Hills girls’ varsity found themselves in a position that they haven’t been in often. They were on the road, behind on the scoreboard and struggling to find answers against a formidable opponent. The Dons play to begin the contest was as cold and sloppy as the weather was outside of Taft’s gymnasium. But as it has been all season, the Dons persevered and made it a game when not much seemed to want to go their way. In the end, however, the rocky start was too much to overcome. Verdugo Hills suffered their first true road defeat of the season, losing to the Taft Toreadors 60-46.

The Dons made life tough for themselves right from the opening tip to the contest. Taft started the game defensively with a full court trapping style that gave the Verdugo Hills ball handlers fits because of the Toreadors ability to jump passing lanes. The Dons turned it over 3 of their first 4 attempts to get the ball across the mid court stripe, leading to easy lay-ups for Taft. By the time Head Coach Kevin Peterson-Henry signaled for their first timeout to settle the girls down, the Toreadors had already jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the ballgame. “We just didn’t come out ready to play,” said Coach Peterson-Henry on the rough start. “There were too many unnecessary turnovers, and we did not play our best defense.” In typical Dons fashion, a slow start didn’t necessarily spell doom for the squad. On the strength of two Nicole Vanegas 3-point field goals, and an offensive rebound and putback basket by Morriah Mbachu, the girls only found themselves down by a point after the first period.

The second quarter saw the Dons step their play up on both ends of the floor, but up against a tough opponent on their home floor, it didn’t necessarily translate into huge success. The Dons were still careless with the basketball, turning the ball over 6 times, and the Taft guards were able to penetrate the interior of Verdugo’s defense and create opportunities at the rim and at the foul line. Taft went to the foul line early and often, piling up 10 free throw attempts in the second quarter and 14 total attempts in the first half. A huge blow for the Dons offensively was the fact that starting guard Moriah Mosley was saddled with early foul trouble that prevented her from being on the floor in the late stages of the first half. Her on ball pressure is usually the catalyst for the Dons suffocating style of defense which gets them steals and the ability to get out and run and create easy offense. Despite the foul trouble and 18 turnovers, Verdugo only trailed 28-24 at the half due largely to the efforts of Vanegas and Elaine Oh, who carried the scoring while Mosley sat on the bench. The two combined for 15 of the Dons 24 first half points, shooting 60% from the field as well as 60% from the 3-point line.

The third quarter was easily Verdugo’s best of the game, as their starting backcourt carried them offensively. Mosley was finally able to find her footing, as she attacked the basket and got herself to the free throw line. Vanegas continued her efficient shooting from the first half, knocking down 4 of her 8 attempts from the field, leading all Dons scorers in the quarter with 7 points. While they found success on that end, the defense still could not keep Taft from putting points on the board. The Toreadors were terrors on the boards, grabbing 6 offensive rebounds in the quarter. Their second and third shot creation was a momentum killer for Verdugo Hills and helped Taft maintain a slim 42-39 lead heading to the final period of play.

In the fourth quarter the game completely fell apart for Verdugo Hills. Just about every trip down the floor, the Toreadors were finding wide open shots that continued to fall. The Dons had trouble defending Taft’s screen and roll action which led to the Toreadors finding wide open layups. And just when the interior defense began to slip, Taft got red hot from the perimeter as well, knocking down 3-point field goals and elbow jumpers with ease. Taft did what you would expect a good team to do at home against a tiring defense, and their efficient shooting ed to an 18-7 quarter that put the game away for good. “We started playing the way we wanted, but I think we ran out of gas in the fourth quarter,” said Coach Peterson-Henry on how the game slipped away in the last period. “We uncharacteristically gave up too much penetration, and we didn’t get to the rim enough.”

A basketball season is long and full of tests. And while the Dons may have come up on the short end of this contest, the girls will have to shake this game off and prepare for a bigger test coming up in the form of league foe Arleta. “We’ll be up for Arleta. We know how important the game is and we’ve been preparing for this,” said Coach Henry. We’re in good shape and we are healthy and improved. We gained some valuable experience in this first part of the schedule, now we just have to go out and play well.”

Verdugo Hills will lace up for their East Valley League home opener against the Arleta Mustangs, who will come into the game sporting an 11-2 record and unbeaten in their first two league games. The game tips off at Verdugo Hills High School on December 17th at 4pm.

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