PASADENA — The Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy basketball team had a clear size advantage when it took on San Marino in a pool-play game of the Pasadena Poly Tournament on Thursday afternoon, but that didn't stop the feisty Titans from exploiting some mismatches of their own.
Befuddled by San Marino's full-court pressure and perimeter defense and unable to stop the Titans' quick guards from getting into the paint and hitting three-point shots, Sacred Heart was never able to assert its physical edge and lost to San Marino for the second time this season, 55-50.
“It was a much bigger loss than what it seemed,” said Sacred Heart Coach Gino Pacella, whose team advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5-AA playoffs last season. “These girls are way off from last year’s team. The leadership that we were expecting out of this veteran group just has not come through yet and that’s the tough part.
“We have all the ability in the world, but if they can’t go out there and mentally figure it out and come together as a group, it’s going to be a disappointing season for this team.”
San Marino (4-3) built its lead as high as nine points in the first half, during which it forced a whopping 19 Sacred Heart turnovers, and led by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, but for much of the game just couldn't shake the Tologs (3-3), who were led by 18 points from Lana Haddad.
Maddie Romero scored on an uncontested breakaway layup on an outlet pass from Dana Budzyn (11 points) with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter that pulled Sacred Heart to within 45-41 — the same four-point deficit it faced at halftime.
San Marino's Leigh Kunitake answered with a three-pointer and the Titans stole the ensuing inbound pass, setting up a layup for Kirstyn Leung, who finished with 17 points. At the 2:07 mark, Kunitake corralled a long defensive rebound and pushed the ball up the court for a layup and a 54-43 lead.
Just as they had in the waning moments of the second quarter, the Tologs made a final rally, pulling to within four with 7.4 seconds left on a Budzyn floater that was preceded by an Ivy Fitzgerald three-pointer. But San Marino made its free throws and had time on its side by that point, as well.
"We've got to learn how to put teams away," said Titans Coach Kenny Fisher, whose team ended the third quarter on a 7-2 run to lead by eight before letting the Tologs creep back in the fourth. "We're still learning how to win."
San Marino led, 13-9, after the first quarter, but began to pull farther away in the second behind a transition offense fueled by seven steals.
"We're a running team," Kunitake said. "Pressing and trapping is really kind of our thing."
Kunitake slashed her way inside for a layup to put San Marino up, 24-15, with 3:58 left in the first half and even though the Tologs would fight back to within four by halftime, a possession late in the half that included seven missed shot attempts crystallized the shooting woes for the Tologs, who shot 30% (15 0f 50) for the game.
Pacella said that the team is feeling the loss of graduated guard Vanessa Romero, who formed a potent backcourt duo with Budzyn last season.
"Just the inability to handle the basketball for us is a big challenge," Pacella said. "Dana's doing a big share of the load, but everyone else just doesn't have that ability."