PROVIDENCE HIGH — There were times Thursday when the Providence High girls' basketball team looked like a poised group ready to make a deep postseason run. However, at other times the Pioneers looked like a squad that suffered from nerves and had problems taking care of the ball.
It was definitely a challenging way for Providence to open the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA playoffs.
The third-seeded Pioneers did enough to gain a first-round win against Arrowhead Christian Academy, as they staved off a late comeback attempt to notch a 54-45 home victory.
With the win, the Pioneers (23-4), the three-time Liberty League champions, will take on Brethren Christian (18-9) at 7 p.m. Saturday at a site to be determined. Brethren Christian, the No. 3 team from the Academy League, defeated Hamilton, 41-17, in a first-round game Thursday.
Trying to pinpoint his team's inconsistent play, Providence Coach Andrew Bencze is hoping it was nothing more than opening-game jitters.
"We have a group of kids playing at the wing who were experiencing their first playoff game," Bencze said. "They're just not quite sure how to handle the emotional impact of the playoffs. It's just hard to execute when your motor's running 100 miles per hour."
One player who seemed unfazed by the playoff atmosphere was Providence freshman guard Katia Dabbaghian. The first-year player had 19 points — including three three-pointers — to go along with eight assists and four steals.
Although it didn't show, Dabbaghian admitted she had some jitters before the game.
"I was a little nervous because it was my first playoff game, but in the end it was just another game," she said. "We just wanted to come hard."
The Pioneers also received solid production from a pair of junior starters. Janel Adraneda tallied 16 points and 11 rebounds and Bea Benedicto added 12 points.
Providence played without two players, one a key sub who was benched and the other a starter, senior Catherine Saint, who is suffering from an injured ankle she suffered last week.
"Missing Catherine obviously hurts us," Bencze said. "We're hoping to survive a couple of rounds and maybe we can get Catherine back. I'm not going to put her out there if it's going to damage her ankle further; it's just not worth it."
The Pioneers and Eagles (11-13) — an at-large team from the Ambassador League — had problems with their shooting and ball-handling in the first quarter. While Arrowhead Christian was two of nine from the field with 11 turnovers, the Pioneers shot just four of 13 and also had 11 turnovers.
Providence led after one quarter, 13-6.
It was more of the same in the second quarter, as the squads combined for 38 turnovers in a first half in which the Pioneers enjoyed a 13-point lead, 27-14.
Providence settled down in the third quarter and increased its lead to 16, 40-24.
But the Eagles wouldn't back down. Twice they threatened to cut the deficit to single digits, only to see the Pioneers push back and create some breathing room.
Arrowhead Christian was finally cut the lead to nine when Megan Reade sank a free throw with 2:20 left to make it 48-39.
Fortunately for the Pioneers, they hit their free throws down the stretch to stave off the comeback attempt.
Reade paced the Eagles with 17 points.