Last season, the Santa Ynez girls basketball team shocked a lot of people when it finished second in the Channel League.
By far the smallest of the six schools in the league, the Pirates showcased a level of commitment needed to pull off some daring wins.
They nearly opened up the 2020 Channel League season with a shocking result.
Santa Ynez ended the first half on a big run to take a nine-point lead into the break, but Santa Barbara, with the support from its home crowd, battled back to defeat the Pirates 66-53 at JR Richards Gym Tuesday night.
“(This win) is huge. It sets the tone for the rest of the league and our teamwork was so great at the end of the day. We came together, we got big stops, made big shots and big layups that really got our momentum at the end,” Dons junior guard Athena Saragoza said.
Saragoza, Santa Barbara’s (7-8, 1-0) leading scorer, had another solid shooting night, dropping a game-high 26 points on 10 of 23 shooting while adding three boards and three steals.
“I was trying to go for more, but it’s okay,” a laughing Saragoza said.
“I am just glad we got the win. I know we had to send a big message tonight and I am glad we did”
For Santa Ynez (6-12, 0-1) coach Jason Finley, though disappointed by the loss, the second-year man said he was happy with how his team came out ready to play.
He added that his team is “not just playing the jersey,” anymore.
“When I took over last year, we walked into gyms like ‘Oh, we are playing Santa Barbara,’ instead of looking at it how we do now, playing the players and trying to win matchups. Now, when we talk into gyms we know what we have to do,” Finley said.
Despite being happy with last season’s second-place finish, Finley and his Pirates are not willing to just concede the title again this year.
Tuesday night, the Pirates certainly came out the tougher team.
Trailing 25-24 midway through the second, Santa Ynez took over with a 17-7 run before the half to take a nine-point lead.
The Pirates’ Grace Padilla was a huge factor in the second period. The junior captain scored 11 of 13 points in that frame alone.
She also dominated the glass for the majority of the first half, pulling down nine boards in the first 16 minutes. She finished with 15 on the night.
Another thing going right for Santa Ynez early was its shooting. The Pirates were 6-for-13 from deep in the first half while Santa Barbara was just 1 of 8 from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Malia Loos, Santa Ynez’s most accomplished 3-point shooter, was 3-for-5.
“We had a game plan and in the first half, we didn’t seem to follow any of it. We did not want to not let Padilla drive right and we did not want to let Malia Loos have open shots, and we accomplished neither in the first half,” Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher said.
Out of the break, however, the Dons were a completely different bunch. In the third frame alone, Santa Barbara outscored Santa Ynez 21-7.
A big turning point came with just under 40 seconds to play in the third frame.
The Dons’ Caia Trimble, with Santa Barbara trailing by two, drove down the lane and pulled up to knock down a jumper and drew a foul. She made the ensuing free throw.
Santa Barbara then forced two consecutive turnovers and converted those into layups in the final 30 seconds of the frame to take a five-point lead into the fourth.
In the final period, Santa Ynez cut the lead down to two at one point, 55-53, but Saragoza scored five straight points and the Dons ended the contest on an 11-0 run.
“We have good game plans but we go away from them a lot. It took a half for us to figure it out and give credit to Santa Ynez, they hit open shots, they played with enthusiasm and they’re just solid,” Butcher said.
Another player who stepped up for Santa Barbara on Tuesday was Jaeda Spence. The sophomore is one of two underclassmen starting for the Dons, but she didn’t let that stop her from making plays.
She scored a season-high 15 points and also collected a team-high 13 rebounds for Santa Barbara. As a team, the Dons collected a season-high 17 offensive rebounds.
Spence also did a great job of driving to the basket and drawing fouls. She was 7 of 10 from the charity stripe.
“It was exciting. I have been training for this and it’s exciting to be able to step in and help my teammates out. I just try to play as hard as I can every game and do whatever I can do to help the team, whether it’s passing the ball, shooting the ball, rebounding, like I just need to do whatever I can do to help,” Spence said.
Overall in the second half, Santa Ynez scored 12 points and was just 4-for-21 from the field. Padilla, who did not score in the second half, left midway through the third after suffering a leg injury. She returned in the fourth but was not as effective.
Other Santa Ynez players got into foul trouble, exacerbating the lack of offense on the floor.
“We started hot but we got a little foul trouble and that always takes the momentum out of what we’re doing, but I’m proud of my girls. I think they fought hard and I think it’s going to be an awesome year,” Finley said.
“We can’t wait to get them at our home. They repaid us here so now we got to repay them there.”