PROVIDENCE HIGH — For the second consecutive year, the Providence High girls' basketball team earned a spot in the championship game of its Providence Pioneer Shootout.
Having not won the tournament in 12 years, the Pioneers were hoping to break that streak against a tough Los Angeles Baptist squad in the 15th annual tournament.
Although the teams played evenly through the first quarter, the Knights' hounding defense began to pay dividends in the second quarter. Add to that the solid play of L.A. Baptist senior Monet McNally, and the Pioneers just couldn't keep pace, falling Thursday evening, 66-40.
Since winning their tournament in 1999, this was only the second time in a dozen years that the Pioneers (8-2) were able to advance to the championship contest.
"We haven't won since '99 and by design, the tournament is to get us better, rather than for us to win," said Providence Coach Andrew Bencze, whose team fell to Pasadena Poly in the 2010 tourney final. "Obviously, we would like to win the tournament, but it's more important for us to be challenged. We want to be playing at the end of the year."
The Pioneers found the going rough against L.A. Baptist's 1-3-1 defense. Positioned at the top of that defensive formation was McNally, who nabbed five steals and helped force 20 Providence turnovers.
McNally said her team prides itself at playing tough defense.
"Defense means a lot," she said. "We actually have a slogan where we say 'Got 'em coach' when we steal the ball from them. We like to play tough defense."
It was not only on defense that McNally posed a problem for the Pioneers. She also led all scorers with 20 points, which helped her earn tournament most-valuable-player honors.
Providence had two all-tournament selections in juniors Bea Benedicto and Janel Adraneda, who paced the Pioneers with 16 points. Benedicto added 12 points and nine rebounds.
The teams took turns holding the lead in the first quarter. Adraneda was able to hit a layup with one second left to knot the score at 14 at the end of the period.
However, things started to unravel for the Pioneers early in the second quarter. The Knights scored nine straight points at the outset and helped force nine turnovers during the quarter. L.A. Baptist increased its lead to 14 and the Pioneers could never whittle the advantage down to single digits.
"We really needed to play perfect against this team, and we're just not there yet," Bencze said.
The Knights had a 34-23 lead at the half.
Things didn't go much better for Providence in the third quarter, as the Knights' lead ballooned to 22 after three quarters, 55-33.
L.A. Baptist went up by 28 with 2:17 left in the game.
"It seemed like every time we made a mistake they made us pay for it," Bencze said. "But we also didn't take care of our opportunities. We missed some shots that we should have made."