Lancers advance to CIF-SS semifinals

Photo by Ted Apodaca Vanessa Rodriguez breaks up court after a defensive stop.

Girls basketball team uses 14-0 run to wear down Lions

Avalon High ran off a 14-0 scoring spree to open the third quarter that led to a 52-44 win over Linfield Christian of Temecula in a CIF-SS Division 5AA playoff game at Linfield Christian on Wednesday. The Lancers, who trailed 22-17 at halftime, are now headed to the semifinals against Trinity Classical Academy.

Traffic issues caused the Lancers to arrive in Temecula only 45 minutes before game time. The rushed pregame warmups and nerves heading into the game seemed to throw the team off its game, Head Coach David Hart said. However, when the Lancers trailed by just five points at halftime, Hart pointed out that they were close, despite not playing their best in the first half.

Hart said he told the girls to play loose and get back to the up-tempo pace with which they play. With a couple of quick scored to open the third quarter seemed to get the Lancers going and within a few minutes, they led 31-22.

“If we play how we do, it’s going to be hard for anybody to keep up, because we can get up and down this floor,” Hart said.

Senior captain Serene Naluai got the rally going with an inside layup off a drop step. On the Lions ensuing possession, another team captain, junior Virginia Soto, made a steal and took the ball the length of the court for a layup. The Lancers made another stop and Naluai hit a short baseline jumper that gave the Lancers a 24-23 lead.

The Lions had two free throws during the run, but missed both as the Lancers continued to push the pace and extend their lead. After a couple of free throws, Soto made another steal and broke up court. This time she dished a pass to senior Giselle Alvarez who finished the break with a layup that pushed the Lancer lead to 28-17. Alvarez followed that with a three-pointer that gave the Lancers a 31-22 lead.

After a free throw by Linfield, sophomore Kensley Flynn drained a three-pointer from the right angle and junior Hannah Hoefs hit a running floater in the key that gave the Lancers a 36-23 lead. But the Lions would battle back. Led by senior guard Keslyn Henson, who scored 11 points in a 13-2 run. The Lions cut the lead to 38-36 before the Lancers were able to adjust.

Soto made a defensive steal to start a fast break and she again found Alvarez with a pass in the lane for a layup that got the Lancers back on track. Linfield kept pace with the Lancers lead at 44-41, with 3:07 left in the game. Sophomore Vanessa Rodriguez got behind the defense and took a long lead pass to the hoop for a 46-41 lead. Sophomore Lizette Cervantez followed her own miss with a rebound and putback and the Lancers led 48-41 and were able to start bleeding the clock. Several offensive rebounds in the closing minutes also help close out the game. Hart credited his three team captains – Alvarez, Soto and Naluai with keeping the team a focused and cohesive unit.

“This whole season, my captains have been incredible at being inclusionary … with all the players, taking them under their wing, … I think they’re the reason we’re as successful as we are,” Hart said.

Rodriguez led the Lancers with 14 points, and Cervantez had 12 points. Avalon had opened the playoffs with a 56-36 win over Yeshiva of Los Angeles. The Lancers got out to a quick start behind Vanessa Rodriquez 8 points in the first quarter, as the Lancers led 22-8 by the end of the first. The Lancers kept the onslaught going through the first half with a 32-16 lead at halftime.

The second half the Panthers kept it competitive but could not handle the speed and the aggressive defense of Avalon. The Lancers had 18 steals and 50 total rebounds. They had nine girls score in the game with Rodriguez leading all scorers with 17. Another standout was Virginia Soto with 10 points, 20 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals.

The Lancers will host Trinity Classical Academy on Saturday at 5 p.m. Trinity is the No. 1 team out of the Heritage League and the second overall seed in the bracket.