For the second game in a row, the Santa Barbara High girls basketball team was in a battle at halftime.
On Tuesday, the Dons were behind by nine at the break while on Thursday, they led by just one point.
Regardless, much like on Tuesday, Santa Barbara came out firing in the second half and outscored San Marcos by two touchdowns to defeat its crosstown rival 50-35 in front of a packed crowd at JR Richards Gymnasium.
“At halftime, we talked about rebounding, we talked about defending their shooters which we did a really good job on in the second half, and then trying to make short shots that we missed,” Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher said.
While junior guard Athena Saragoza was again the leading scorer for the Dons (8-8, 2-0) Thursday with 19 points, it was fellow guard Caia Trimble that was a difference-maker.
The sophomore dropped 15 points on a very efficient 60% (6 of 10) shooting clip. Trimble also only had one turnover while recording two assists, two rebounds and one steal.
Even bigger than all that, in the second half, Trimble was tasked with shutting down San Marcos’ best player, Kiani Rojas.
The sophomore stepped up to the challenge, holding Rojas to one point on 0 of 3 shooting from the field.
“I’ve played a lot of basketball over the years and it’s always just another game. I have played at that (high) level and it sometimes comes easier for me but I still have to contribute more, I know I can still do more for my team,” Trimble said.
Not every night this season has been an easy one for Trimble. Being one of the two main options on offense comes with pressure.
The sophomore does not shy away from the pressure but even the best of players have off nights. Against Santa Ynez Tuesday, Trimble scored 10 points but was just 3-for-17 from the field.
“I always just try to keep pushing. Sometimes, my mindset is off and it’s really my team that is always there for me and getting my mind right. We are just really close,” Trimble said.
In the first quarter, Trimble’s quickness helped her get some easy baskets in transition and even draw some fouls. Her nine points in the first period helped the Dons hold a 17-14 lead after one. That quick start was key to her confidence for the rest of the game.
“It was very big (to start quickly). Getting locked in, in the first quarter, helped me keep going. Sometimes I miss and I am very hard on myself, but this time it all came together and flowed throughout,” Trimble said.
It also helped that the Dons had a very loud crowd in the stands Thursday, something that always helps Trimble get into the flow of the game.
“They were outstanding. The crowd helps me play better because they keep me fired up. Knowing that they are there helps me try to make plays,” Trimble said.
At the start of the second quarter, the Dons looked like they would start running away with the contest as they used a 12-5 run to take a 10-point lead.
The Royals (14-4, 0-2) responded with a pair of threes, one from Rojas and the other from sophomore guard Lily Poehler. A free throw from senior captain Ashley Day then a layup made the score 29-28. A steal by Day and a shot by Poehler nearly gave San Marcos a halftime lead, but it missed.
“It was an exhilarating feeling because (Santa Barbara) has beaten us so many years in a row and to be that close was just a proud moment for us,” Poehler said.
Out of the break, the Dons defense began to clamp down on the Royals and their shooters, however.
Midway through the second period, Santa Barbara switched to a man-to-man defense. It kept that adjustment in the second half and it was a big reason as to why San Marcos scored just seven points.
“That was the first time we’ve faced a real man to man defense all season long and we have gone up against it in practice but it’s different in a real game,” San Marcos coach Aaron Solis said.
“We know what to do against the zone and that’s why (Butcher) pulled it because we were finding those gaps. And we still had open shots, we just could not get anything to fall.
“This was a lot closer than a 15-point game.”
The Royals were 3-for-25 in the second half and 0-for-7 from deep.
To start the third quarter, a basket by Trimble followed by back-to-back jumpers from Saragoza put the Dons back in front by eight and from there they ran away with it.
They led by 39-32 after the third frame and Saragoza scored nine points in the fourth to give her team the double-digit win.
“San Marcos is good, they weren’t 14-3 for nothing, this was a fun game. Solis said this was the first time they saw a man defense so they’ll work on it in practice and we’ll make some adjustments before the next time,” Butcher said.
Sophomore forward Jaeda Spence totaled eight points and a team-high nine rebounds for the Dons. Senior forward Maya Banks had four points and eight rebounds in the win.
For the Royals, Poehler led the way with 11 points and was 3-for-5 from deep while Rojas added seven points.
Day totaled five points and was tremendous on the glass earning a game-high 12 boards. Six of Day’s rebounds came in the fourth, highlighting her tenacity no matter the score.
“She’s the one that deserves all the credit for leading this group on the floor because they see how hard she plays and they follow that lead,” Solis said.
“I feel like as a captain it’s important for me to set the tone and play as hard as I can the whole time. My dad raised me to never stop playing, never stop giving 100% until the last buzzer sounds,” Day said.