SANTA MONICA — Early in Saturday night’s CIF Southern Section Division I-A girls’ basketball second-round playoff game, both teams came out pressing.
Whereas host Santa Monica’s press was of the full-court variety and set a tone of defensive intimidation, the pressure Crescenta Valley applied was mainly to itself.
The Falcons couldn’t get acclimated to the intensity of the game early enough to avoid falling into a 15-point hole before scoring their first points just inside the 2:00 mark of the first quarter.
They never rebounded from that rough start to the point where they could match the Vikings’ quickness and depth, falling, 60-30.
“Once we started getting down, the ball started to roll and we were in some trouble,” Crescenta Valley Coach Jason Perez said.
Santa Monica, the division’s No. 2 seed, came up with seven steals in the first quarter, with most coming in the backcourt, and promptly built a 15-0 lead.
Falcons guard Dani Vargas made the score 15-2 with a long two-pointer from the corner with 1:50 left in the first quarter, which ended with two more Crescenta Valley baskets from Cassie Pappas and Lorrin Cheeney.
But by that point, the Viking’s offense was already rolling and their fullcourt and perimeter defense never gave the 15th-seeded Falcons a chance to loosen up.
“Their press was pretty good,” said Pappas, who scored five points. “Usually we’re pretty good about breaking [the press], but they came out and doubled and they’re really fast and athletic, so that gave us a lot of trouble.”
Whether well-covered or wide open, shots just weren’t falling for Crescenta Valley in the first half. The Falcons went 0 for eight from three-point range before halftime and shot just 26% from the field, as Santa Monica (22-6) built its lead to 40-11.
“We were getting open shots and not hitting them, and that’s really what it came down to,” Perez said. “We had a lot of open threes. That’s probably not the shot that you want to take, but if that’s what they’re giving you, you need to hit them.”
Crescenta Valley (20-9) was successful at limiting the damage done by the Vikings’ top two scorers, guards Thea Lemberger and Jennie Harding, who each scored 11 points.
But that came at the expense of big nights for forward Ellesse Brandis (18 points, eight rebounds) and guard Kristina Johnson (12 points), who combined to score 16 first-quarter points.
Cheeney led the Falcons, who finished second in the Pacific League, with seven points and 10 rebounds and Stephanie Ziemann also had seven.
“We knew it would be a tough game,” Pappas said. “We came to compete and to win, but it didn’t happen and we knew we played our hearts out.”