Athena Saragoza got an earful each time she touched the ball in the first half of Santa Barbara’s cross-town matchup with San Marcos Thursday night, but in the end, the silence from the Royals crowd spoke volumes.
The junior guard scored a game-high 24 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists in the Dons 64-38 win at the Thunderhut.
Santa Barbara opened the game going toward the San Marcos student section, which was occupied Thursday by members of the Royals boys basketball team. Each time Saragoza received the ball on the wing or in the corner, one of the boys would blurt out “Athena” to try and get her flustered. Having watched the Royals take on Dos Pueblos last week, Saragoza knew what the boys were up to and didn’t let it faze her.
“I love it,” she told the News-Press after the game. “It makes it fun. It can get a little frustrating here and there, but it was all cool at the end.
“It’s kind of like motivation because someone is hating on you right there, so you just want to prove them wrong. I love it.”
The two teams went back and forth in the early going, with Santa Barbara (13-8, 6-0 Channel League) jumping out front 8-5 with five minutes left in the first quarter following a Saragoza jumper.
Ava Cannizzaro subbed in midway through the first and made an instant impact for San Marcos (14-8, 0-6 Channel League). She banked in a 3-pointer shortly after checking in the game to tie the score at 10, and drilled another 3-pointer with less than two minutes left in the opening quarter to cut the deficit to 14-13.
The Dons opened the second quarter with a 12-0 run, with Saragoza playing a big part in the scoring spurt. After Briana Trujillo scored on a layup, Saragoza scored the Dons next eight points. Caia Trimble knocked down a pull-up jumper with 3:10 left in the first half to make it a 26-13 game.
Trailing 29-16 with under a minute left in the second quarter, Plourde banked in a 3-pointer – the third shot from distance that went in off the glass for the Royals in the first half – to make it 29-19. A layup by Plourde with five seconds left cut the deficit to eight points at the break.
After Saragoza’s 15-point outburst in the first half, the second period gave Trimble a chance to showcase her talents.
The sophomore scored the first five points of the third quarter before Maya Banks knocked down a pair of free throws to put Santa Barbara in front by 15. With 4:35 left in the third, San Marcos’ Fran Pereira knocked down a jumper to cut the lead to 36-25 before Saragoza answered with a jump shot of her own.
Leading 42-29, Trujillo nailed a 3-pointer followed by a steal and layup by Trimble to put Santa Barbara out front 47-29. San Marcos’ Ashley Day scored on consecutive possessions to make it a 14-point game heading to the fourth.
Throughout the game, Santa Barbara would score on multiple occasions early in quarters, while San Marcos had a difficult time finding open looks. That trend continued into the fourth, as the Dons used an 8-0 run to open up a 55-33 lead with just over four minutes left in the game. Saragoza’s final points came from the charity stripe with 2:42 left before both teams started to empty their benches.
As the clock wound down, senior Maria Aragon scored on a layup and received a huge ovation from the olive and gold faithful.
Santa Barbara made just three of its 11 attempts from 3-point range (27%) and shot 46% from the floor, but only had three turnovers. The Dons didn’t turn the ball over once in the first half, which tied a school record, said coach Andrew Butcher.
“Cross-town games are always fun, win or lose, although they’re more fun when you win,” he said. “San Marcos is tough and I thought they played a really strong first quarter. Defensively we kind of figured out they like to drive a lot and they like to offensive rebound, so we took that away a little bit and gradually were able to build up a lead.”
The Dons allowed only 17 points in the second half, though it wasn’t necessarily because they increased their defensive pressure.
“Sometimes you don’t want to play harder, you want to play smarter,” Butcher said. “If we play harder, we get beat more sometimes. Basically we want to play off a little more. It’s hard because these kids play so hard and they want to get up tighter.”
For San Marcos, Plourde finished with a team-high nine points. Cinnizzaro added eight.
With the win, Santa Barbara remains unbeaten in Channel League play. As they prepare to square off with their league foes a second time around, the Dons appear to be ready for the challenge.
“I feel like we haven’t been our complete best in the first half of league,” Saragoza said. “Now I feel like we’re starting to separate ourselves as a real contender. We have to finish out league just how we finished out this game, really strong defense and moving the ball around and just being patient. It worked out for us.”