SUN VALLEY — Last year, the Providence High girls’ basketball team found itself on the doorstep of making its first CIF Southern Section Division V-AA championship appearance before being stopped in the semifinals.
This season, the Pioneers found themselves back at the doorstep of the finals just needing to take one more step, in the form of a road game against Village Christian on Saturday night at Kendall Pavilion, to play for their first CIF crown.
The Pioneers, seeded No. 2 in the division, seemed to have one foot through the door, holding a seven-point lead with five minutes to go, but they saw the door slammed shut as Village’s Christian’s Samantha Pyros caught fire.
Pyros scored eight points in the final two minutes Saturday to give the host Crusaders a 46-45 victory to delay Providence’s first championship appearance for at least one more season.
“This was really tough,” Providence Coach Andrew Bencze said. “You’ve got to give credit to Village, you know. They played real hard and they were down most of the game, so they just kept fighting back.”
Providence (19-10) took the lead on the first possession of the second quarter and held it until there were 57 seconds left in the fourth, when Pyros hit both of her free throws for a 43-42 advantage.
After a Pioneer miss and two more made free throws by Pyros, the Pioneers, who struggled mightily in the final frame to find any offense, got a clutch three-point basket from freshman Fabi Jimenez to tie the game at 45 with six seconds to go.
But then Village Christian (18-13), the No. 11 seed, had Aubrey Pyburn throw the inbounds pass three-quarters down the floor to Pyros, who drew a foul, sending the senior to the line with 3.6 seconds left. She hit the first and missed the second. The Pioneers grabbed the rebound, but Providence’s Kristie Kawamoto’s desperate heave from about half court never had much of a chance, leaving the Pioneers heartbroken.
“[Pyros] can really fill it up,” Bencze said of Village Christian’s game-high scorer with 18 points. “We knew we had to come in and really crowd her out of the key and we did a great job of that for about three quarters and six minutes. But the last part of the quarter, we just kind of lost track a little bit.”
Pyros, one of the top scorers in the division, had 28 points in the quarterfinals, but she was limited to a single point in the first half. Providence senior Bea Benedicto led the way defensively on Pyros, aided by consistent double and triple teams.
Benedicto, however, fouled out with 2:40 left in the fourth, after which Pyros scored eight of her 11 fourth-quarter points, including going six of seven from the line in the final 1:19.
“Lack of discipline [on defense] at the end hurts, and losing Bea hurt a lot,” Bencze said.
Benedicto led the Pioneers with 12 points — one of three from her squad to score in double digits. The senior, despite working against a Crusader front court with a significant size advantage, patiently and creatively carved out space to find a way to score inside in the first three quarters — when she recorded all of her points.
The other two Pioneers to reach double digits came off the bench in the form of Jimenez and Janel Adraneda, who combined for all eight of their team’s points in the fourth quarter. Adraneda finished with 11 and Jimenez had 10.
After the first quarter ended in a tie, Providence took control in the second, building a seven-point cushion. But Benedicto picked up her second foul with 5:55 left, and at the same time the Crusaders finally started getting passes inside.
The main beneficiary was Pyburn, who scored nine of her team’s 13 points in the second to keep the home team close at the break, down 25-23. Pyburn had 15 points overall, with 13 coming in the first half. After that she was a non-factor, tallying just one field goal in the third quarter, after which Providence led 37-31.
“You always say the phrase ‘good teams win when they’re not playing well,’ and, not to take anything away from Village, we didn’t really play our ‘A’ game,” Bencze, whose team had beaten the Crusaders 52-44 earlier this season, said. “We didn’t come ready to play and it hurt us in the end.”