Dons crush Hollywood in playoff opener

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The Verdugo Hills Dons girls’ varsity basketball squad had a successful regular season, by all accounts. Although they did not achieve their initial goal of winning the East Valley League championship, there was a reason this team was still considered a top seed in the Division II. Their 28-game regular season slate saw them go toe-to-toe with some of the best teams the city has to offer and they more than held their own. The Dons are battle tested and senior laden. But now, it was time to put their mettle to the test as the city playoffs have begun.

The first test for the #1 seeded Dons were the #16 seeded Hollywood Sheiks, who were coming off a 31-point opening round victory over Reseda and had hopes of an upset on their minds as they entered the Barn. Dons Coach Kevin Peterson Henry had stated in the days leading up to the game that the team was focused, prepared and were the healthiest they have been in weeks. From the opening tip, the Dons were ready to show that they were indeed the team to beat, and it showed as they raced out to a 13-3 lead in the first five minutes of play. The Dons were in the Hollywood passing lanes early and often, creating steals and easy baskets. Moriah Mosley made the most of the turnovers, leaking out and getting easy baskets as Verdugo raced out to the early lead. The Sheiks found their footing and made back-to-back baskets to cut into the Verdugo lead, but a quick 5-0 burst capped off by freshman guard Elaine Oh’s 3-pointer gave the Dons a healthy 18-7 lead at the end of the first period.

A theme that began early and carried throughout the game was the fact that no shots for Hollywood would come easy during this playoff contest. Hollywood’s primary scoring option all season has been junior forward Lindsey Miramontes. In this game Miramontes had a hard time finding shots as the size and athleticism of Verdugo defenders took away both her perimeter opportunities and made life difficult whenever she attempted to drive to the basket. Hollywood was left scrambling to find any offense. In fact, their first made backet didn’t come until the 3:50 mark of the period. Just as in the first quarter, the Sheiks would dig in and find a few baskets to settle their nerves. The Dons would still close the door on the period strong, led by the efforts of their captains. Nicole Vanegas, Ayana Peterson Henry and Mosley shot a combined 6-14 from the field, accounting for 15 of the squads 17 points in the quarter. The trio also handled business on the defensive end as well, piling up 5 steals in the quarter. After holding Hollywood to 7 points in the period, the Dons took a 35-14 lead into Halftime.

The Dons came out in the third quarter looking to continue their dominant play from the first half and put the game away knowing they would need to save their legs for a quick turnaround on Saturday. The starters did just that, outscoring Hollywood 18-6 in the period, with all five of Verdugo’s starters finding their way onto the score sheet in the process. Vanegas led the way, putting up 8 points on 3-7 shooting. Morriah Mbachu continued to dominate the game in the paint, blocking 2 shots while altering several other attempts at the basket. She also found her way to the free throw line four times in the quarter, knocking down two of her attempts. By the end of three periods of play, Verdugo Hills led 53-20.

The fourth quarter was all but academic, as Coach Peterson-Henry chose to rest his starters and let the reserves get most of the action. The Verdugo lead swelled to 40 points, which triggered the running clock to speed up the end of the contest. The highlight of the period came in the form of freshman guard Lilly Opper, who knocked down two shots from long range, which ignited the bench and the fans in the stands in the closing minutes. When the final horn blared, the Dons had a comfortable 65-24 victory over Hollywood, and will move on to the quarterfinals.

The Dons will meet a familiar team in the next phase of the tournament, as East Valley rival North Hollywood is up next. The #8 seeded Huskies knocked of their second-round opponent in the #9 seed Bravo Knights in a defensive struggle 32-17. Verdugo Hills won both of their meetings against the Huskies back in January by 17 at North Hollywood, and by 16 points when they faced off again at home.

The Don and Huskies will clash with a berth in the Division II semifinals on the line at The Barn on February 19th at 4 pm.

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