Verdugo Hills takes care of business in first round of the State tournament

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The mission for the first game of the tournament was simple. Play your game and the rest will take care of itself. That is the philosophy of the Verdugo Hills Dons, and it has served the team well as of late. The team has won eight straight games including an unblemished postseason run that has already secured them a third consecutive city title. This squad still believes there is more to achieve, and the Division V State Tournament is the place to prove it. The Dons come into the state playoff as the top seed in the Southern region of the Division V bracket, and their first test came in the form of the Workman Lobos. On paper, this represented a matchup that the Dons should handle, but in any elimination scenario you must bring your best or you can be beaten.

The Dons looked ready to get things rolling as the game tipped off, but nervous energy created a sloppy start, as both teams turned the ball early. As it would be a theme of the contest, co-captains Nicole Vanegas and Moriah Mosley carried the freight for the Dons offense in the first quarter, accounting for 18 of the 20 points the team scored in the period. Verdugo’s defensive prowess was on full display early and often in the quarter, as they harassed the Lobos ball handlers and forced many turnovers. The Dons starters forced more steals (11) than they allowed shots at the basket (7) in the first frame. Workman was held off the scoreboard completely for the first 8:13 of the game, with their first points and only points of the quarter coming at the free throw line. Despite the sloppy start, Verdugo Hills were off and running in the contest and they held a 20-2 advantage after the first quarter.

The offense did not get much better for the Lobos in the second quarter of play. Workman continued to stay aggressive and attack the basket, but Verdugo’s interior defense continued to stifle any looks at the basket. Victoria Vanegas was a standout performer on the defensive end in the ball game, as she took on the task of shutting down the Workman perimeter players while the captains rested on the bench. The first and only Workman made field goal of the first half came in the form of a layup at the 5:26 mark of the quarter. While the Lobos had no success offensively, they gave themselves a fighting chance with the way they dug in defensively in the period. The second quarter was the lowest scoring period of the game for the Dons. The squad managed only 8 points on 2-10 shooting from the field. Despite the low-scoring effort, The Dons still went into the half with a 28-4 lead.

When the second half began, the Dons went back on the attack, sensing an opportunity to put the game away and give the starters a chance to rest the final period of the game. An opportunity to save the legs of your key players can be vital in this portion of the season, with the turnaround to the next time an advancing team will take the floor is less than 48 hours away. The Verdugo starters did all the heavy lifting in the period offensively, accounting for the teams 18 points while shooting 50% from the field. The defense continued to shine as six different Verdugo players registered a steal in the period while holding the Lobos to two made baskets. The Dons 18-5 scoring advantage bloated the lead to 37 points by the time the horn blared to signal the end of the period.

With a sizable advantage and only 8 minutes left in the game, it was time for the end of the bench reserves to get a taste of state tournament action. Young reserves Jezell Abdalnour and Eliana Mota made the most of their opportunity to carry the offense in the final minutes of the game. Mota led all Dons players in points in the fourth with 8 points, including going a perfect 5-5 from the free throw line. Abdalnour also chipped in on the offense adding a corner three that ignited the Verdugo crowd in attendance. 5-foot-tall dynamo Melissa Lopez had her moments off the bench in the final frame, going 2-2 from the field including a rebound and put back over two Workman defenders. The Lobos had their best offensive quarter in the fourth, scoring 21 points, but the game was all but academic. The Dons had won the contest 61-30 and had advanced to round two of the state playoffs. “Workman has some good players, but our group is working really well together and making it very tough for teams to score,” said Coach Kevin Peterson-Henry on the effort of the girls in the blowout win. “We’re also more dynamic offensively than we have been all year. The combination is working very well. It will be interesting to see how far we can go.”

The Dons next test in the state tournament will come in the form of the 9-seed Highland Scots out of Bakersfield. The Scots have been rolling as of late, having won their last six contests. They took home the Division V title in the CIF Central Section, and trounced Desert Christian Academy 51-20 in round one of the playoffs. Ball security will be a must for the Dons as the Scots are a feisty defensive bunch. They harassed their first round opponent to the tune of 20 steals in the blowout victory.

Verdugo Hills will host the second-round matchup against Highland at the Barn on March 3rd at 6pm.

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