Up 37-34 late in the third quarter, the Lady Aztecs desperately needed something to help them pull ahead for good. In a tension-filled sequence, a technical foul allowed the Lady Aztecs to go on a 6-0 run to close out the third quarter, and thus spelled the victory for Mark Keppel as they held on to defeat Bakersfield 57-47 on Wednesday night.
“I was trying to front [the girl] and the ref told me to keep my hands off, so I put my hands up but accidentally hit her in the head softly. She basically turned around and slapped me,” says sophomore Patricia Chung. “We got under their skin and used that energy and confidence to make another run.”
Similar to their loss against Redondo Union, the Lady Aztecs got off to a slow start, falling into an early 6-0 deficit. They seemingly learned from the loss as they eventually found their offensive touch and a new gear on the defensive side of the ball. The girls turned up the pressure, forced a handful of steals and stormed back with a flurry of layups to take a 15-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Lady Drillers caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 19 points to retake control of the game. However, both teams took a hit when Mark Keppel’s senior center Sally Smith and Bakersfield’s junior guard McKenna Hsuing got tangled up on a loose ball near half court. While Hsuing was able to return in the third quarter, Smith, who finished with eight points, was held out for the rest of the game.
“It’s hard to lose someone like Sally and it’s an adjustment, but we have girls that are relentless and ready. I always tell them to be ready for when your number is called, and that’s exactly what happened today,” says Head Coach Jose Herrera.
The Lady Aztecs came into the second half trailing 28-26, but proceeded to outscore the Lady Drillers 31-19 to pull out the victory. Chung and junior point guard Vanessa Aguirre combined to score 35 points, and Coach Herrera could not emphasize enough how important their play was to their success.
“Their play was crucial. Vanessa has always been our engine, but Patricia is slowly becoming a special player in her own way. Nobody really knows about Patricia, so we waited for the right moment to release her and today was the perfect opportunity as she scorched them with 17,” he says.
Though they were the home team, the Lady Aztecs were victim to a hostile environment as tempers began to flare not only in their opponents, but in the opposing parents as well. However, the Lady Aztecs kept their composure as they have done all season long, and this ultimately helped them pull out the victory amidst all of the tension.
“I had to make sure that we held our composure and were prepared for the environment to change. All we had to do then was execute, and the girls did exactly that,” says Coach Herrera.
For Keppel, the loss against Redondo Union still has the team disappointed, but their run in the CIF State playoffs provides them with a chance at redemption, and a chance to set up a potential rematch with Redondo Union in the quarterfinals.
“I feel like some people, despite our number four seed, think that we won’t win so we want to show them that we can do it,” said junior guard Cassandra Shimada. “We want to win, not only to redeem ourselves, but also for each other.”
With their desire to prove everyone wrong, the Lady Aztecs now shift their focus to their home game against Westchester on Saturday night. Coach Herrera acknowledges that though his team may not have the accolades that other teams have garnered, this will serve as further motivation for the team.
“A lot of these teams have won CIF championships and that’s something that we want, so we just need to make sure that we keep our girls hungry. But right now, we’re just taking things one game at a time like we always do,” he says.