The Dos Pueblos High girls basketball team had every chance to make a statement Tuesday night at Sovine Gymnasium.
After winning just one Channel League game all season and zero the year before, the Chargers put themselves in a position to win their second league game this season just three games in.
And, after being swept by Lompoc High last year, Dos Pueblos was hoping for a little revenge.
Instead, what it got was disappointment.
The Chargers led by as many as 12 Tuesday, but a 13-point second-half effort by the Braves’ Natalie Soriano helped them pull out a 54-52 road victory and improve to 2-1 in Channel League play and 7-11 overall.
“It’s always nice to win on the road. Last week we beat San Marcus on the road and road wins are always good wins because then when we’re at home we feel like we have that advantage,” Lompoc coach Claudia Terrones said.
For a while, it seemed that Lompoc was going to go back home with a loss. Dos Pueblos was able to jump out in front in the first half thanks in large part to a punishing full-court press/trap defense.
In the first quarter alone, the Chargers (11-6, 1-2) forced the Braves into 11 turnovers.
“They are a young team like us, so they don’t handle pressure very well,” DP coach Phil Sherman said.
“Neither do we to a certain extent. But we just didn’t make enough plays on the offensive end to win the game.”
To Sherman’s point, despite forcing 11 turnovers in the first period, Dos Pueblos led by just two by the end of it.
Senior guard Sadie Subject, one of three Chargers to score in double figures Tuesday, drew a foul with 11 seconds left and knocked down a pair of free throws to give her team an 11-9 lead after the first quarter.
In the second frame, DP finally started getting some headway on the scoreboard. After Lompoc tied up the score at 11-11, DP’s Ashley Gerken knocked down a three from the left corner to put her team back out in front.
Another three from Gerken with 3:30 remaining in the second quarter put the Chargers in front 23-12 to cap off a 12-1 run.
With just under two minutes remaining, the Chargers still had a double-digit lead, but five straight points from the Braves’ Mya Mendoza cut the lead to just 31-24 at the break.
“When we had a chance to bury them, we didn’t. We let them get back to a five-point game and it gets a lot tenser with a five-point lead as opposed to a 10, 11, 12 or 13 point lead which is what we could have had,” Sherman said.
In the third period, Dos Pueblos led 36-29 but Lompoc closed the third quarter on a 9-2 run over the final three and a half minutes to go into the fourth quarter tied.
Soriano scored seven of the Braves’ nine points during that run. She had nine of her game-high 17 points in the third frame alone.
“She’s only a sophomore and she is a first-year varsity player but she does all of the dirty work for us and I just really love watching her play and she just really stepped it up tonight,” Terrones said.
A key change for Lompoc in the third period, aside from understanding how to beat the press, was that they changed to a man-to-man defense. That change gave DP fits as it only scored seven points in the third period.
“They switched up the defense the second half, so I think we had a little hard time with that and they’re really aggressive and they started making their shots (in the second half). There’s nothing we can really do about that,” Gerken said.
The fourth quarter saw a slew of action with both teams taking the lead from each other.
A big three from Subject, who finished with 10 points, put the Chargers in front 45-44 with 4:21 to go in the game.
Lompoc would score five of the next nine to tie the game up at 49-all. Then, a tough layup from Soriano with 47.2 seconds left put the Braves in front 51-49.
While the Chargers looked like they were out for the count down 53-49, missed free throws by the Braves would actually keep them alive.
With 6.7 seconds left, DP had one final look at a game-tying or game-winning shot.
As Lily Mires brought the ball up the court, she tried passing it to her teammate, but it was stolen by Lompoc’s Mallory Branum who then ran out the clock. Branum was another key player for the Braves as she totaled 13 points.
“I just think we played super hard and really well as a team, especially in the first half and that helped us jump out to a lead. We kind of just fell apart in the second half, but I mean we have what it takes to come back and we showed that. So, now we have to get better from here,” Gerken said.
Tuesday’s loss was also hard for DP as with just a couple more wins, the Chargers will qualify for a CIF spot in Div. 4AA.
However, if Dos Pueblos was to have a repeat of last season where it only won one league game, it would not have enough wins to qualify.
“We’re ranked number seven and if we don’t win another game we’re not going to be playoff eligible and that wouldn’t be good. If we’re ranked in the top 10 in our division and we don’t win enough games to qualify that is a missed opportunity,” Sherman said.
While he notes that his team is young, Sherman said that it is no longer an excuse. The team will have to start executing in crucial moments if they want to earn a postseason berth.
“We’re gonna have to win some close games, which involves execution and making free throws down the stretch and all those little things. After a while the being young thing is not really an excuse, they’ve got to learn and gotta call plays and execute,” Sherman said.