Poly outlasts Verdugo in a war at the Barn

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This late into any basketball season, there are any number of challenges a team will face. Injuries, postponements and sudden lineup changes have become the norm as most teams navigate the difficulties that have become the norm. The Verdugo Hills Dons Girls Varsity basketball team understood this all too well, as Coach Kevin Peterson-Henry and his squad faced off against league rival Polytechnic Friday evening at The Barn. The Dons were going to have to play with a much shorter rotation than they had all year due to three players being out of the lineup nursing injuries. Not only would this game be a battle, but the Dons would have to do it undermanned.

When Verdugo Hills faced Poly six days prior, there were a couple of key issues that plagued the Dons in their 10-point loss on the road. The Dons turned the ball over and gave up too many easy looks in the first half, which led to a huge halftime deficit that was too difficult to overcome against a tough and talented opponent. Coach Peterson-Henry sought to mitigate these issues by employing a zone defense in the first half of this game designed to run Poly’s shooters off the perimeter and take tougher shots against Verdugo’s interior defenders. The plan worked out of the gate, as the Parrots struggled to find good shots and the Dons were able to clog passing lanes and get easy transition baskets as they built an early 11-5 advantage. Dons co-captain Ayana Peterson-Henry led the early charge as she controlled the action on both ends of the floor, getting steals and initiating the fast break for easy baskets for herself and her teammates. “She's done a fantastic job all year,” said Coach Peterson-Henry on his captain’s efforts. “She’s been great all year defensively, but we needed more offense tonight and she played very well.” While the Dons were able to get off to a good start, by the end of the quarter Poly had found its footing. Bolstered by the play of their dynamic Sophomore backcourt duo of Heart and Hannah Lising, the Parrots went on a run to draw the score back to a one-point deficit by the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter of play, the Dons continued to play with the same composure they exhibited to start the ball game. Peterson-Henry continued to apply pressure to the Parrots defense by attacking the basket and creating open shots for Nicole Vanegas who had a good first half shooting the ball from the outside. Vanegas shot 4-7 from behind the three-point line in the first half. Similarly to the first quarter, when it seemed that the Dons were ready to create some distance on the scoreboard, Poly would display its grit and fight back to keep it close. To break Verdugo’s offensive momentum, the Parrots would full court press the Dons ball handlers, causing them to turn the ball over. The Parrots would capitalize on the turnovers in the form of long-range field goals. Despite a much better and more consistent level of play Verdugo Hills found themselves nursing a slim 31-28 lead at the half.

In the third quarter, The Dons continued their solid play. Moriah Mbachu emerged as a force on the low block, dominating the boards while also contributing on offense, adding 5 points, including an impressive rebound and put back while fending off three defenders under the basket. Mbachu provided the toughness Verdugo needed as the game took on the physical nature you would expect of two teams who are familiar with each other and are fighting tooth and nail in a close and competitive contest. “She’s played so well for us all month and I am very happy with her development, “said Coach Peterson-Henry on the stellar effort of his Sophomore Center. “She controls the boards and finishes inside, and her defense keeps getting better. She’s made a big jump this year and she is a force now. “The Dons started the quarter on a 9-3 run, but Poly picked it up to finish the period. The Parrots turned up the aggressive and attacked the basket, which helped get them to the free-throw line. Once the Dons were forced to collapse the defense, Poly was able to find some success shooting from deep. By the end of the third, the Parrots had turned a 3-point deficit into a slim 45-43 lead.

After Poly pushed the lead to 48-42, the Dons began to dig their heels in defensively in the early portion of the fourth quarter. Victoria Vanegas shined for the Dons, spearheading a defensive attack that did well denying the parrots perimeter shooters and forcing them into tougher shot attempts. Nicole Vanegas stepped up and hit two big perimeter shots that kept the game close. Down the stretch the Parrots were able to put the game away by controlling the offensive glass and creating second shot opportunities. When the final horn blared, the Dons had put together a valiant effort, but the Parrots had escaped with a 59-54 victory.

The second half of the contest was all about the shot making ability of the Parrots backcourt. Even though the Dons were playing well, creating easy scoring opportunities and dominating on the glass, whenever the Parrots needed a basket, the Lising twins would deliver. The Parrots duo shot the lights out in the second half, with the duo finishing the game a combined 15 for 33 from the floor, while accounting for 42 of Poly’s 59 total points for the game. Their efforts were felt on the defensive end of the floor as the duo also added 12 steals and 2 blocks.

While moral victories don’t help you in the standings, there are positives to be taken from this game that Verdugo Hills will be able to take with them the rest of the season. The team’s play had improved from the first matchup against Poly, even with important contributors missing in action. “I’m very impressed with our effort,” said Coach Peterson-Henry. “We played well, but in the end the turnovers got us in a close game. We’ll be very tough to play if we are healthy and we play like that.”

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