Huntington Beach High girls’ basketball coach Russell McClurg may not be completely relaxed right now, but he certainly is not as nervous as he was during the regular season.
McClurg expected to win the Surf League this season, and once his team ran the table to do so, he felt that whatever his team did from there would be “icing on the cake.”
The Oilers now have another moment to enjoy.
Andie Payne had game-high totals of 25 points and 14 rebounds to lead Huntington Beach to a 53-48 win over Aliso Niguel in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs on Thursday night at home.
The junior center also provided a trio of three-pointers, an added wrinkle to an Oilers team that often does well to find open looks late in the shot clock.
“Everything is on icing on the cake because we’ve had such a good year,” McClurg said following the win. “Aliso is a very good team. They were deep. They were athletic. They were quick.
“Our game plan worked really well. I think the game plan with Andie, at some point, I just said, ‘Andie, you have to take that shot.’ She took it, and she hit three threes in the game, which really opened everything up for us.”
Both starting post players for Huntington Beach (23-5) proved proficient on shots away from the basket. Power forward Madeline Krause and Payne combined to score all 12 points for the Oilers in the opening period. Krause made a three-pointer with three seconds remaining in the frame to cut the Aliso Niguel advantage to 13-12.
Payne also made a pair of shots from beyond the arc in the first half, the second capping a 13-0 run that put Huntington Beach up 27-16 with 1:53 to go in the second quarter.
“It was nice because then I realized that they would come out on me,” Payne said. “At first, they didn’t come out on me, but then once they did, then I finally drove. It was nice to see both aspects.”
The pace of Aliso Niguel (20-9) earned the Wolverines an early lead. A transition layup by Nicole Referente put Aliso Niguel up 11-5 with less than two minutes to go in the first quarter.
Huntington Beach used its defense to claw back into the contest, and with 3:56 to go in the first half, a pair of free throws by Marisa Tanga would give the Oilers their first lead at 18-16.
The Oilers extended their lead to 44-30 on a layup by Tanga with 4:42 remaining, but Sarah Matossian would get hot for the Wolverines, scoring 10 of her team-high 18 points the rest of the way.
After a steal led to two made free throws by Catherine Swanson, Tanga once again found herself in the middle of the action, needing to convert at the free-throw line in a one-and-one situation with her team holding a 51-48 lead with 12.2 seconds on the clock.
Tanga, a four-year varsity player, sank both free throws, sealing the victory for Huntington Beach.
“As a freshman, I’ve grown a lot [from then], looking up to people like Kaylyn [Nakaji] and Frankie [Wade-Sanchez], and it’s kind of surreal to be one of [the key players] now,” Tanga said. “I think that all of my years have really prepared me for a moment like that.”
Every game could be the last of the senior guard’s high school career, and Tanga is simply enjoying every last moment. She is not shying away from the Oilers’ next challenge, either, a second-round road game against top-seeded Studio City Harvard-Westlake (19-8) on Saturday.
“How many people can say that they played Division 1 and played against the No. 1 seed, so it’s exciting,” Tanga added. “It’s a cool way to finish everything.”
Alyssa Real distributed six assists for the Oilers, and Cassidee Kinslow added six points on a pair of second-half three-pointers.
After seeing his team battle back from a 14-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, Wolverines coach Brad Johnson was proud of the effort given by his team.
“It’s their heart,” Johnson said. “It’s their fight. We got down double-digits, and we still believed coming into the fourth quarter that we could score.
“We were struggling to score all game, but we still believed that we could score at a high rate, at a rapid pace, and we just never stopped playing, just kept fighting all the way to the end.”
CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs
Huntington Beach 53, Aliso Niguel 48
Aliso Niguel 13 – 9 – 5 – 21 — 48
Huntington Beach 12 – 15 – 13 – 13 — 53
AN – Matossian 18, Swanson 10, Eyre 9, Referente 4, Cabrera 3, Gillmer 2, Truby 2.
3-pt. goals – Matossian 4, Eyre 2, Cabrera 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
HB – Payne 25, M. Tanga 8, Kinslow 6, A. Tanga 5, Krause 5, Real 2, Doke 2.
3-pt. goals – Kinslow 2, Krause 1, A. Tanga 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
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