Verdugo Hills outpaces scrappy North Hollywood at the Barn

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In any athletic season, the battles you face evolve beyond the opponent lining up across from you. Injuries, fatigue, both mental and physical, become as big a factor in your success and become true measures of the caliber and sheer will of a collective group. This game at The Barn represented an opportunity for the Dons to measure how battle tested they have become this season when they tussled with the North Hollywood Huskies for the second time in ten days.

The game was a struggle from the opening tip, as the Huskies showed grit on the defensive end. Their 6’2'' Sophomore Center Shadel Ffench was a dynamo in the post for North Hollywood. She altered the Dons shot attempts at the basket, while controlling the rebounds on the defensive and offensive glass. Early on it felt as if the Huskies had fresher legs, as they got to nearly every loose ball and created second-shot opportunities. Verdugo Hills got off to a sluggish start offensively, turning the ball over and missing open shots from the perimeter. Verdugo Hills co-captains Nicole Vanegas and Ayana Peterson-Henry, who have been primary offensive catalysts all season for the Dons, got off to slow starts shooting the ball, going a combined 3-15 from the field in the first quarter. Where the offense faltered for the Dons, the defense picked up the slack. Verdugo hounded North Hollywood’s ball handlers in the quarter, amassing 7 steals while also forcing the Huskies into unforced errors. Although it wasn’t the cleanest quarter that Verdugo had played all season, by the end of the opening period the Dons held a 13-6 advantage on the scoreboard.

The second quarter continued a run of sloppy play by both squads. North Hollywood and Verdugo Hills both continued to struggle with turning the ball over. North Hollywood showed a commitment to making the game as physical as they could by continuing to crash the boards and attack the basket aggressively. The Huskies held a 12-8 rebound advantage in the quarter, with many of those rebounds being of the offensive variety. Their ability to control the offensive glass allowed the Huskies to find easier looks that led to points.The Dons dug their heels in and began to match the Huskies physicality, led by their main post presence, Moriah Mbachu. While grabbing 4 rebounds in the quarter, she made it tough for Ffench and the Huskies to get clean looks towards the end of the quarter. Offensively, the Dons were lifted by the play of their captain Vanegas, who carried the offense, scoring 8 of the Dons 10 points in the quarter. She found her stroke from the outside, hitting two three-pointers. At the end of a physical first half of play, the Dons held a 23-15 lead, but it was clear that North Hollywood was there looking to pull off the upset.

In the early stages of the second half, the Huskies came out of the gates aggressive. It was their best quarter on the boards, as they nearly doubled Verdugo Hills in rebounds 21-11. The problem for North Hollywood was their offense continued to struggle putting the ball in the basket. Despite a huge advantage in rebounding, not much came from their second shot creation. The Huskies only managed to shoot 3-13 from the field, and 1-6 from the free throw line in the period. Vanegas continued to bolster the Verdugo Hills offense, scoring 9 of the squads 11 points in the quarter. Though the rest of the Dons struggled offensively, they were equal to the task matching North Hollywood’s aggressive play. The Dons attacked the Huskies interior defense and got to the foul line eight times in the period, knocking down four of their free throw attempts. Through three quarters, the Huskies had played a lot better than they had in the first matchup, but the Dons had absorbed their body blows and held a 34-22 lead.

In the fourth quarter, the physical nature of the game continued, but the Dons had adjusted to the style of the game and went into put away mode. North Hollywood continued their theme of not being able to make shots. Despite a consistent effort on the defensive end of the floor, the Huskies offense only managed to shoot 1-13 from the floor, making it next to impossible to cut into Verdugo’s advantage on the scoreboard. The Dons co-captains led the way in the final period, as they had the entire second half on the offensive end. Peterson-Henry and Vanegas scored eight of the Dons ten points in the fourth, and 19 of the teams 21 total points in the second half. The Dons ended up pulling away after a stifling defensive quarter in which the Huskies only scored 5 points. When the final horn sounded, the Dons had notched a 44-27 victory, and had improved to 5-4 in the East Valley League. “We struggled a little in this game”, said Dons coach Kevin Peterson-Henry on the hard-fought win. “I think one issue was how intense the Poly game was and how much energy we expended. Its hard to come right back with the same energy against a tough defensive team.”

Despite their struggles in the game, Peterson-Henry was still happy with the way that the girls continued to persevere and play well when they needed to create some distance on the scoreboard. “The first quarter and the end of the third and into the fourth, I really liked how we got out in the break and moved the ball,” said Peterson Henry. “We missed a lot of chances, but we need to play like that.”

Despite the recent obstacles that the squad has faced, the team remains in a good position to finish the regular season strong and make a run in the postseason. Despite their 4-3 record since the holiday break, the Dons have managed to outscore opponents by nearly an 8 point margin, and that is without the services of starting guard Moriah Mosley’s 13.8 ppg missing from the lineup for most of their recent contests due to injury. “We’re not the same without Moriah, but the other players have stepped up in her absence,” said Peterson-Henry. “Overall, I think our recent play has been good because we were in a little slump week before last and we have been working on things to improve. I think we did a lot of those things in this game.”

After a three-game stretch at home, the Dons will be back on the road for a matchup against the Monroe Vikings at James Monroe High School in North Hills, on January 4th at 4 pm.

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