Dons Outlast Panthers
The Verdugo Hills Dons girls’ basketball team visited the Rosemead Panthers on Tuesday evening in a non-league matchup that allowed them to play to their strengths, as opposed to their slugfest against league rival Arleta last Friday. The Mustangs forced the Dons to play their brand of basketball, but on Tuesday, Verdugo Hills was able to get out in transition often enough to outlast Rosemead 61-51. “That’s when we’re at our best,” Coach Kevin Peterson-Henry said, “When we can run, we get our energy.”
The Dons jumped out to a 9-1 lead buoyed by an opening 3-point shot from guard Moriah Mosely and their standard aggressive defense, which forced turnovers on the Panthers first two possessions and led to a quick timeout by coach Steve Goldstein. They came out of the timeout and switched to a full-court press in an attempt to challenge the Dons ball handlers and take control of the game. From that moment on, the Panthers went on an 11-6 run to trim the lead to three and end the quarter down 15-12. They were aided by some strong shooting from the free-throw line during that stretch.
The full-court press, however, gave Verdugo Hills an opportunity to run past the Rosemead defenders and find their rhythm, and they showed it at the start of the second quarter. Junior guard Nicole Vanegas hit back-to-back 3-point shots to start the quarter, and the rest of the team followed suit. Center Morriah Mbachu tallied 5 rebounds and 4 points in the quarter, while making life difficult for Rosemead whenever they tried to drive in the paint. Ayana Peterson-Henry added 6 points and 2 blocks as the Dons pushed their lead to 12, entering halftime at 34-22.
Rosemead used the halftime break to regroup and came out in the 3rd quarter ready to chip into the deficit, and they did just that. The Panthers seemingly capitalized on every shot the Dons missed, and they trimmed the lead all the way down to 2 at 40-38 with under 2 minutes left in the quarter. Vanegas converted a free-throw to complete a three-point play to end the Rosemead run and extend the lead back to 5. That was followed by 2 big steals from Senior forward Katherine Flores-Escalante, one of which she converted into a layup to give the Dons a 7-point lead going into the fourth quarter at 45-38.
Flores-Escalante began the final quarter the same way she ended the third, with 2 steals that led to buckets. The Panthers, however, were not about to go down without a fight. They found their way into the heart of the Dons defense on numerous occasions, and continued to get to the free-throw line and convert. If not for their strong performance from the charity stripe, the game could have been well out of hand. Ultimately, though, the Dons defense held on for the win.
It was easily a breakout game for Mbachu, who finished with a double-double of 12 points and 15 rebounds. She also added 2 steals and one blocked shot. “She was really active today,” said Coach Peterson-Henry after the game, “when she’s active and aggressive she’s a lot to handle.” Vanegas led all scorers with 18 points, shooting 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line, while also containing the Panthers’ main ball handler all game. Despite playing with foul trouble, Peterson-Henry finished with 15 points and 5 rebounds.
The Dons take the court next at Burroughs High School when they face off against the Hart Indians in tournament play on Monday, December 27 at 1:30 pm.