Dons stifle Grant at the Barn


When the Verdugo Hills Dons took the floor at the Barn to match up against the Grant Lancers on Wednesday afternoon, confidence was running high that the team would be victorious. After all, this is the team the Dons opened league play against back on December 8th and won by 52 points. This game represented more than just an opportunity to notch another win in the East Valley league. It provided an opportunity for Verdugo to find the consistent high level of play that had been eluding them in recent games. The team came into this contest sporting a 2-2 record since the resumption of play after the holidays, with losses to league rivals Arleta and Poly, while notching wins against North Hollywood and Chavez. In both the wins and losses, the Dons have had a hard time putting together four quarters of effective play which cost them against better competition. This game against Grant would be a test of the focus of the Dons, with a larger matchup looming two days later against the Poly Parrots.

If there was concern of the focus of Verdugo, that worry faded right at the tip as the Dons outpaced the Lancers on both ends of the floor. Co-captains Ayana Peterson-Henry and Nicole Vanegas continued to be tone-setters in the way they have been all season long, hounding the Grant ball handlers, causing turnovers and running out for easy baskets. The Verdugo leaders alone piled up 10 points on 4-7 shooting from the field. Peterson-Henry and Vanegas also contributed 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and 4 rebounds. Their contributions were particularly felt on the defensive end as they helped bolster a team defense that held the Grant Lancers without a single made basket for the first quarter, with their only offense coming in the form of two made free throws. By the time the first period concluded the Dons held a 19-2 advantage on the scoreboard.

The second period of play saw Grant pick up their play and try to get back into the game. It was their best stretch of play in the contest, as they became aggressive and attacking on the offensive end of the floor. They exploited spaces on the interior of the Dons defense and found easier shots at the basket. In turn, they found success on the boards creating second shot opportunities. Even though they didn’t shoot for a high percentage, the Lancers equaled the Dons in shot attempts and free throw attempts in the second period. After a flurry of offense by the Lancers, Verdugo dug their heels in and stabilized the game. Moriah Mbachu was stellar on the glass in the second quarter, piling up 11 rebounds, many of them of the offensive variety. The Verdugo Hills reserves saw a lot of playing time in the second quarter and, despite the Lancers best efforts, the Verdugo Hills advantage had grown to 22 points by the halftime horn. “The many substitutions had a bit to do with what happened in the second quarter,” said Verdugo Hills coach Kevin Peterson-Henry on the Grant offensive success against the Dons in the quarter. “If I had left the starters on the floor, it would have helped with consistency, but the girls turned it around by the end of the period.”

If the Grant Lancers felt good about the way they picked up their play in the second period, the Dons made it very clear that those feelings would not last long into the next period. Verdugo Hills defense was stifling in the early minutes of the second half. Vanegas started the third period the way she began the game shooting 60 percent from the field and leading all Dons scorers for the period with 9 of the team’s 19 points. Victoria Vanegas stepped into the facilitator role in the period, contributing 3 assists and a steal as the Dons opened the quarter on an 11-0 run. In fact, the Dons did not allow Grant a made basket until 52 seconds left in the period on their way to build a 51-15 lead heading into the final period of play.

“Our standard on the defensive end is high and this is the kind of killer instinct I have been telling the girls have been missing in recent games,” said Coach Henry on the third quarter effort. “If we put together games like this where we communicate and play together, we are hard to beat.”

With the game being all but academic, the Verdugo fourth quarter effort remained solid on the defensive end. Grant hit only one of their eleven attempts from the floor in the period, punctuating a game where the Dons only allowed six made baskets in total. Verdugo went on to win by a 58-17 final score, completing a season sweep of the Lancers and improving their record to 14-9 overall and 4-3 in the East Valley League.

The 41-point victory also gives the Verdugo Hills Dons back-to-back wins of 35 points or more, a feat the team has accomplished for the second time this season, when The Dons posted blowout victories over both Lakeview Charter and Grant back on December 7th and 8th.

The Dons will hope to push their win streak to three games when they host league rivals Poly at the Barn on Friday, January 28Th at 4 pm.

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