BURBANK — It was a tough first half for the Providence High girls’ basketball team.
In their CIF Southern Section Division IV-A opener against Santa Ana, the Pioneers struggled on offense throughout the first two quarters and found themselves down by 17 points in the first half.
But it was a different story for Providence in the second half. The Pioneers grabbed the momentum, surged back and made it a one-point game late in the fourth.
Although the Pioneers had their chances to take the lead in the waning seconds, they came up short and the Saints held on for a 52-50 victory at Providence.
It was the first time in eight seasons that Providence (15-12) entered the playoffs not having won or shared the Liberty League championship after placing second this season. The loss also broke the Pioneers’ string of advancing to the CIF quarterfinals for five straight seasons.
“Being good for a very long time is hard,” said Providence Coach Andrew Bencze, who has guided the program through the recent playoff and league success. “You have a different team every year and you try and figure out the best way for each year’s team to be great, and that’s not easy.
“This team took a long time to figure out how they were going to be that kind of team. I thought that we played hard, but we just didn’t execute when we needed to.”
Providence was led by junior Francesca Maravilla, who had a team-high 14 points to go along with six rebounds. Junior Giselle Camonayan added 10 points and five rebounds and senior Christy Hoffman contributed nine points.
The Pioneers had trouble containing the Santa Ana (14-13) duo of freshman Esperanza Reyes, who had a game-high 17 points and 16 rebounds, and senior Natily Cruz, who poured in 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Trailing by 13 after three quarters, 44-31, the Pioneers came roaring back in the final stanza against the Saints, who earned an at-large berth into the playoffs after finishing fourth in the Golden West League. Sophomore Ariel Gordillo got Providence to within one, 51-50, with a driving layup with 13.4 seconds left.
After one free throw by the Saints with 6.7 remaining made it 52-50, the Pioneers had possession under their own basket. Gordillo took the inbound pass, raced the length of the floor and put up a layup that missed the mark. Saint Emma Jaimes grabbed the rebound as time expired.
“We had every chance to win and we just couldn’t get it,” Bencze said. “I am happy with how we played, but it’s frustrating because we could have won that game, but we weren’t able to take advantage of our opportunities.
“We came out very nervous and very anxious and early mistakes got us into a hole. But we then battle all the way back and it was those mistakes that cost us at the end of the game. We made some mental mistakes down the stretch that proved costly.”
Providence sputtered on offense in the first half, converting just seven of its 27 shots (25.9%) from the field.
Those shooting woes helped Santa Ana jump out to a 12-7 lead after one quarter. The Saints increased their advantage to 30-13 with 51 seconds left in the second quarter. The Pioneers went into halftime down by 13, 30-17.
The third quarter was a 14-14 push, which enabled Santa Ana to maintain its 13-point cushion heading into the fourth.
“Even when we were down we didn’t lose hope,” Maravilla said. “We knew this was a playoff game and anything could happen. It was a little tough to lose a game that close, but we gave it our best.”