10 points allowed per quarter. This has been the philosophy for Head Coach Jose Herrera all season and although his team gave up 30 points in the second half, the Lady Aztecs were still able to pull out a 54-38 victory on Wednesday night against Newbury Park’s Lady Panthers.
“Even though the other team may have scored more points in the second half, we didn’t let it get to us. We kept our composure, kept playing hard defense, and continued to run our plays. I think we wanted the game more than [Newbury Park], so this helped us win the game in the end,” says junior guard Cassandra Shimada.
The first quarter was very defensive-minded as the Lady Panthers were held to four points for most of the quarter. Team captains Jocelyn Song and Sally Smith scored all nine of the Lady Aztecs first quarter points to give Keppel a 9-6 lead heading into the second quarter.
The Lady Aztecs’ momentum carried into the second quarter as they held Newbury Park to two points and continued to build their lead. Song capped off the strong first half for Keppel with a buzzer-beating three pointer to extend the lead to 21-8 heading into halftime.
The Lady Panthers, however, came firing out of the break as they put up 17 points in the third quarter. Yet, every time that they made a run, the Lady Aztecs seemed to have a response as they maintained their double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“This team is very resilient [and] very experienced. Four of our five starters have playoff experience; it showed tonight and they executed when it counted,” says Head Coach Jose Herrera.
The teams continued to trade baskets in the fourth quarter, but three pointers by junior point guard Vanessa Aguirre and Smith sealed the game with less than two minutes remaining. Smith and Song led the team with 13 points each, and Shimada added nine points off the bench in the team’s winning effort. “We knew we had to keep [Newbury Park] off the boards and defend our butts off, and we took care of that,” says Coach Herrera. “We created turnovers that turned into baskets when it counted, and that’s what really helped us get the win.”
The Lady Aztecs had five players score at least seven points; this is a testament to what type of team they are this year. “This team is different from previous years because they are well rounded. In the past, we would always center our team around one player, but this year, we have multiple go-to players. This makes us much more dangerous because teams can no longer focus in on just one player,” says Coach Herrera.
The Lady Aztecs have now worked their way into the semifinals to face off against Redondo Union, one of the toughest teams in their division. The preparation for this matchup does not differ too much from their previous games, but Coach Herrera emphasizes rebounding and ball protection as the two key factors if they want to continue their successful playoff run. “We’ve seen them play and it’s good that we see them at this point in time, but we have to use these next few days to first of all, heal up, and also to engrave it in their heads that we have to rebound and protect the ball,” says Coach Herrera.