Marina High senior small forward Emily Sakamoto admitted that she feels the pressure to perform every time she catches the basketball.
That desire to keep the other team at bay helped the Westminster transfer pull through in clutch moments for her new team on Thursday night.
Sakamoto had a game-high 18 points to lead the host Vikings to a 43-37 victory over Fountain Valley in a Wave League opener.
The game began with Sakamoto making two of her five three-pointers, which helped Marina build an 8-0 lead at the 5:46 mark of the first quarter.
Down the stretch, Sakamoto continued to hit big shots. Marina led 24-13 at halftime, but Fountain Valley had closed the margin to four points when Sakamoto hit a three-pointer from the right corner with one second remaining in the third quarter.
In the closing minutes, Sakamoto again found herself with the ball and the shot clock winding down. The countdown sounded from the crowd, and Sakamoto made a play off the dribble to get into the key. She threw up a shot that drew nothing but net, giving the Vikings a two-possession lead at 39-35 with 1:25 left in the game.
“Wanting to help my team out and win for the team was a big part of it,” Sakamoto said. “Just coming out with fire. Having Katie [Nguyen] back definitely gives us more confidence on the floor to play better and to want to perform better.”
Nguyen, the senior shooting guard for the Vikings (14-8), recently returned after missing five games with an ankle injury. She had 11 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Marina won a key first game in the short league season with the Wave League comprising just four teams. Those teams are Marina, Fountain Valley (10-11), Newport Harbor and Laguna Beach.
The Vikings were eager to win their league opener, as Marina continues to chase its first winning season since the 2013-14 campaign under first-year coach Daniel Roussel.
“Since I took the job, we’ve been talking about this night,” Roussel said. “This has been our goal all along to win the Wave League, and really, to go undefeated and win the Wave League.
“Tonight, obviously, was a huge game for us at home and a big statement to start league.”
Nguyen echoed her coach’s sentiments, saying that she hoped Thursday’s win would propel her team to further success.
“Before the game, we were all just talking about how we’ve got to get riled up and just start the flow of the ball,” Nguyen said. “Just work the ball and have that momentum for the rest of the season.”
Junior center Greta Graeler had six points, eight rebounds and two steals. Senior guard Kendall Healy had three points, four rebounds and two steals, and sophomore power forward Emily Marsh added five rebounds.
A pair of free throws by senior guard Iris Hasegawa gave Fountain Valley one of its only two leads of the game at 9-8 with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter. Still, the Barons never folded.
After trailing 29-18 with 4:35 left in the third quarter, Fountain Valley tied the score at 34-34 on a three-pointer by senior guard Megan Lai with 3:42 left in the game.
The Barons struggled from the field. In the second quarter, Fountain Valley did not make a field goal after Tiffany Shimizu’s three-pointer that came eight seconds into the period.
“I think our pressure defense in the second half really made a big difference in this game,” Barons coach Marianne Karp said. “It got us back in the game, and our defense usually gets us in the game because our shooting tends to be too inconsistent.”
Freshman center Zoe Ziegler played a big role in the Barons’ comeback attempt. She had 11 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“I think Zoe is really maturing,” Karp said. “Every game that we see her play, she gets stronger, she gets more aggressive, more assertive. She’s staying focused longer.”
Junior guard Kat Luu and Shimizu each finished with six points for the Barons.
Marina 43, Fountain Valley 37
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Fountain Valley 9 – 4 – 12 – 12 — 37
Marina 11 – 13 – 8 – 11 — 43
FV – Ziegler 11, Luu 6, Shimizu 6, M. Tengan 5, Lai 4, Hasegawa 4, Ho 1.
3-pt. goals – Shimizu 2, Luu 2, Lai 1.
Fouled out – M. Tengan.
Technicals – None.
M – Sakamoto 18, Nguyen 11, Graeler 6, Braddock 3, Healy 3, Robinson 2.
3-pt. goals – Sakamoto 5, Healy 1, Braddock 1.
Fouled out – None.