Monday night did not start well for the San Marcos High girls basketball team.
Within the first four minutes of game action, the Royals found themselves down by nine points, and were looking like they would be in for another long night.
Instead, San Marcos clawed its way back, and finally picked up its first Channel League win of the season, defeating Santa Ynez 51-46 on Senior Night at the Thunderhut.
“This was just very special. I could not have picked a better day to win,” San Marcos senior forward Ashley Day said.
Day was one of the biggest reasons for the Royals’ (15-10, 1-8) victory, dropping 13 points and collecting a slew of rebounds.
Early on, however, foul trouble kept the senior from making any plays, as she registered just five minutes of game time in the first half.
“I just knew that I just couldn’t let it bother me. I just had to deal with what the refs were seeing and what they were calling. I had to reassess my game and keep myself motivated to keep being aggressive but find a way to be aggressive in different ways,” Day said.
Day found a way to stay aggressive and it paid off. Eleven of her 13 points came in the second half, seven of which came in the fourth quarter.
Part of the reason Day had foul troubles early in the contest came because she was guarding an offensive force in Santa Ynez’s (10-16, 4-5) Grace Padilla.
The Pirates’ junior co-captain put together a game-high 18 points, most of which came at the foul line, but Day did a great job of not making any shot easy.
Padilla shot just 3-for-10 on the night and had a couple of turnovers thanks to solid defensive pressure.
In the first period, it wasn’t a senior who came to the rescue for San Marcos, it was a sophomore.
Point guard Ariel Plourde, with her team down 9-0 with under four minutes left in the first frame, scored the final nine points of the quarter to tie the game up.
She started by converting on a couple of tough shots inside, then shot 1 of 2 at the charity stripe to bring her team back within four.
A jumper from the elbow with 1:45 remaining made the score 9-7, then the sophomore again drew a foul with 11.5 seconds left and drained both foul shots to tie the game.
“She is learning every game, she is learning to make better decisions,” San Marcos coach Aaron Solis said.
“When you’re a sophomore point guard in this league, it’s tough because there is a big jump from JV to Varsity, but she will continue to learn and get better.”
Plourde would finish with a team-high 15 points, much to the delight of Day.
“She has great potential. I have been blessed to have her as my point guard. She is always positive and encouraging and receptive to getting better,” Day said.
“I am excited to keep coming back the next couple of years and seeing her grow.”
A shot by Kiani Rojas to start the second period suddenly put the Royals in front, 11-9.
And, despite being down 15-13 with 4:45 to go in the second period, San Marcos used a 9-4 run to end the frame on top, 22-19.
The third quarter saw the Royals start taking over the contest.
After a Santa Ynez make, back to back buckets, first from Michelle Arellanes, then by Plourde, stretched the Royals lead to six.
With 2:01 remaining, however, the Pirates got a basket from Kattie Nguyen to trail by just two, 29-27.
San Marcos would then end the quarter on another big run, this one being an 8-2 burst, capped off by a running floater from Day, which bounced around the rim a few times before falling in as the buzzer sounded, to lead 37-29 at the end of three periods.
“It was a rush (making that shot),” Day said.
“I don’t know to explain it, there was just so much pride in this game. To be on a team that can come back from a 9-0 deficit and just not give up and work towards getting that lead and keep pushing forward to building it is great. There is no better feeling.”
In the fourth period, Santa Ynez would usually be able to cut into the lead, but then San Marcos would stretch it back out.
With 2:11 remaining in the fourth, Nguyen would nail an easy layup to bring the Pirates back within three at 45-42.
The Royals would respond with Day drawing a foul and making both free throws to get the lead back out to five. On the next offensive possession, Day would find the bottom of the net again, putting her team in front 49-42 with 1:14 left in the ball game.
From there, San Marcos would hit free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
“I try not to have any doubt,” Day said after being asked whether she was worried during the final quarter with a lead.
“I think of nerves rather than doubt, which is natural for any team in the fourth. I try to push doubt out of my mind. I trust my team and I know I could rely on them so doubt isn’t an option anymore.”
With the win, the Royals are not back in the Channel League race, but 15 wins are the most in the programs’ history since the 2006-07 season when they finished 17-10.
“This is the most wins we have had in 10 years so that is really an accomplishment for this team and for the program in general as we continue to grow and get better,” Solis said.