NORTH HOLLYWOOD — It wasn't a cakewalk for the Providence High girls' basketball team.
Despite enjoying a pair of big leads early on against Buckley, the final of the Liberty League Tournament got interesting late for the Pioneers.
“We've played 25 games, and you can see that all of the games we've played have prepared us for this,” said Providence Coach Andrew Bencze. “To be in a tight game, not to panic. We got a little panicky early and settled down at the end. We found our groove. That experience is everything.”
Providence held off the Griffins, winning, 59-54, at Oakwood High on Thursday to claim the Liberty League title.
It was Providence’s fourth straight title.
After twice boasting advantages of 10 points in the first and third quarters, Providence found itself behind Buckley, 51-49, with just over two minutes to play. However, Katia Dabbaghian knocked down a pair of foul shots to knot the game at 51-51.
The next trip down the court, Dabbaghian drove to the hoop, drawing the defense. She kicked the ball outside to Estelle Glorioso, who drilled a long two-pointer from the corner for the 53-51 lead. That would be the go-ahead points as the Pioneers (16-9) held on.
“I think we never gave up on each other,” Dabbaghian said. “We always had faith in each other and never got upset and just stayed positive the entire time.”
It looked like a blowout early in the game, as Providence held a 16-6 lead in the waning seconds of the first period. But a three-pointer from Buckley's Leah Purvis at the end of the frame ignited a run, and the Pioneers clung to a 24-22 advantage at halftime.
“We kind of fell apart defensively a little bit,” Bencze said. “We had trouble recovering.”
The Pioneers again came out strong to start the second half, going up, 34-24. But again guided by the stellar play from Purvis, the Griffins rallied to within 43-39 after three quarters, setting up the final period dramatics.
“I think we got too comfortable,” Dabbaghian said of the rally.
Dabbaghian finished with 13 points, six assists and six rebounds. Bea Benedicto led the Pioneers with 16 points to go with five rebounds and Janel Adraneda added 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
“I think it was patience, running the offense,” Benedicto said of pulling out the win. “Sometimes we'd get frazzled and throw it away. We just needed to calm down.”
Purvis finished with 35 points and teammate Marlen Grussi grabbed 17 rebounds.
The playoffs are next up for Providence. Might they have taken something away from the close contest against Buckley?
“Close game experience,” Benedicto said. “Hopefully our team will be prepared because of experiences like this.”