The first game between the Dos Pueblos High and San Marcos High girls basketball teams was an intense contest that went down to the final minute.
Friday’s second meeting between the two crosstown rivals was even more exciting.
Ultimately, the same result ensued, with the Chargers beating the Royals 40-36 at the Thunderhut, sweeping their crosstown rival for the first time since 2017 and putting themselves in position for a possible top-three finish in the Channel League.
“They (my players) grind games out. How many teams can be .500 in the league when you’re only scoring 37 or 38 points a game? They’re getting good at grinding it out,” Dos Pueblos coach Phil Sherman said.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t know how tough they were. Now, I think they’re pretty tough.”
Coming into the week, the Chargers were 2-4 but two wins have put them back into the league discussion.
“It’s been great. Especially with where we were last year, we are just feeling really great right now and I am hoping we could just keep pushing and continue playing hard,” senior forward Mikayla Butzke said.
DP is tied for third with Santa Ynez, which it has lost to twice this season.
Unbeaten Santa Barbara has already wrapped up the Channel League crown with an 8-0 record, while Cabrillo is in second at 5-3. Two of Cabrillo’s losses have come to DP.
The Chargers will face Lompoc and Santa Barbara in their final two games. A top-three finish would secure their place in the Div. 4AA playoffs.
“We are ranked in our division but there’s like 81 teams and a ton of automatic qualifiers. We are going to have to beat Lompoc. I don’t think we make it if we don’t and even if we do, we’re going to need help. It’s going to be tough for us, even if we finish tied for third,” Sherman said.
Sophomore guard Lily Mires was a key factor in the win for the Chargers Friday, pouring in a game-high 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting. She also added four rebounds and was a key defender.
“My dad is a big part of getting me mentally tougher for the games and talks me through stuff. We also have a bet going like if I get a certain amount of points, I’ll get like something in return so then that also fuels me,” Mires said.
Mires certainly earned a reward after Friday, especially in the second quarter. The Royals led 9-7 after the first frame but two quick buckets from Mires to start the second put the Chargers in front.
Trailing 12-11, Mires stepped into a deep 3-pointer, making the shot and putting DP back in front. From that point, the Chargers never trailed as Mires scored eight of her 15 in the second quarter.
San Marcos cut into the lead to trail 18-14 with just over 3:30 left in the half, but went cold the rest of the way, allowing DP to extend its halftime lead to 23-14.
The Royals would not go down easy, however, as they started the third quarter on an 8-0 run thanks to a pair of threes from junior guard Ava Cannizzaro.
Cannizzaro was San Marcos’ leading scorer with 12 points. All her shots came from beyond the arc, where she shot 4-for-8 on the night.
“Ava picked up the slack (when we were down). That was her best shooting game all year. She had four threes and thank goodness she’s finding her shooting stroke,” San Marcos coach Aaron Solis said.
The Chargers countered with a key run from their own junior guard, Miracle Millinghaus.
The transfer from New York has become a spark plug for Dos Pueblos in the last few games.
In the third quarter, with DP up 23-22, Millinghaus drove in for a tough layup, then nailed back-to-back threes to quickly put her team back in front by nine.
“I just didn’t want to lose. I hate losing, we are trying to make the playoffs and we are a very good team, I see the potential in our team. We have some things to fix but I know we are going to get there,” Millinghaus said.
Millinghaus played in the first half as well, but was not as effective, turning the ball over twice and missing her two shot attempts.
She was much happier with her third-quarter performance, totaling eight points and dishing a beautiful assist to Mires on the low block to give the Chargers a 33-23 lead after three periods.
“I was mad earlier, I didn’t want to mess up the lead because we were doing good. In my mind on the bench, I was like ‘I have to have to contribute like I have to help out,’” Millinghaus said.
Millinghaus told the News-Press that her coming to Santa Barbara was, “one of the best decisions of my life.
“It’s been great coming here. I just thank God and my family and my brother,” she said.
Trailing by 10 to start the fourth, the Royals still never gave up.
Kiani Rojas, who had struggled with her shot all night, finally started finding the bottom of the net late in the fourth. Rojas, a junior guard, hit her first shot since the first quarter with 3:07 remaining, knocking down a 3-pointer to bring San Marcos within two.
Later, trailing 37-33, Rojas again converted from deep, bringing the Royals within one with 1:52 remaining.
With 1:14 left, Mires was fouled and went to the line. The sophomore said she “surprisingly, I was not nervous,” and made 1 of 2 from the charity stripe to help the Chargers lead 38-36.
With just under 30 seconds remaining, the Royals tried to net the win at the buzzer and relied on Cannizzaro who had a great night from deep.
The junior guard got a solid look, but the shot did not fall.
“It was all you could ask for. It was a good look, it just did not go in,” Solis said.
After the miss, there was a scramble for the ball, with the Royals’ Michelle Arellanes getting fouled in the process.
Arellanes missed the first of a one-and-one, however, and Butzke grabbed the board and DP would eventually win 40-36.
With the loss, San Marcos remains winless in the Channel League with an 0-8 mark.
“it’s been our story all year. They never give up and they’re always battling and they’re always going to play hard. Whether we’re up 30 or down 30, that’s how they’re gonna go at it and that’s why I love them,” Solis said.
With a 14-10 overall record, San Marcos is still playoff eligible but will need to earn an at-large bid to make it to the postseason.
“We still have two more games and we played them tough before and we just have to get over the hump,” Solis said.