Granada Hills outlasts Birmingham on the road

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When Granada Hills walked into the gymnasium at Birmingham on Wednesday afternoon, the atmosphere was thick with anticipation. For these two teams, their two regular season matchups aren’t just about positioning themselves for a league title. The winner of these contests also receives a nice notch on their resume when it comes time to decide the top seeds when the Open Division playoffs come around. This round, the battle went to Granada Hills. It was a tight contest throughout the first half, but Granada Hills used a big third quarter to notch their first West Valley victory this season, 64-54.

The first 8 minutes of the game played out like two heavyweight prize fighters that know each other well. Both teams were aggressive on the defensive end, preventing the other from finding open looks on the offensive end. The Highlanders did a great job keeping Birmingham’s junior point guard Natalie Lopez from controlling the flow of the offense by forcing the ball out of her hands and making the others take contested shots. The Patriots matched Granada’s defensive intensity by blanketing their all-city guard Marianne Boco, forcing her into uncharacteristic mistakes. Birmingham held Boco to just two points in the first quarter and held a slim 13-10 lead.

The second quarter saw both teams struggle on the offensive end, but the Highlanders began to show signs that their offense was ready to turn up the heat. The Highlanders did a better job of moving the ball and creating better shot opportunities. The two teams went back and forth in the second period until Boco knocked down her only basket of the quarter just before the halftime buzzer to give the Highlanders a 21-19 lead at the halftime break. Lopez led all scorers in the first half, netting 10 of the Patriots 19 points going into the break.

In the third quarter, the Highlanders’ offense kicked into high gear, allowing them to create distance on the scoreboard. In a game where perimeter offense was at a premium, Granada Hills knocked down two three-pointers in the period, while the Patriots simply couldn’t find the range from deep all game long. One of those Granada Hill’s threes was made by junior wing Karma Paez, who poured in 6 of her 11 points for the game in the third quarter. “she doesn’t start for us, but she knows how to close,” said Granada hills head coach Jared Honig, on Paez’s contribution. “She has embraced her role off the bench and in the last few games she has come up big for us.” Paez’s 11 points mark her seventh straight game reaching double figures for the Highlanders.

In the fourth quarter, Lopez shined for the Patriots, filling up the stat sheet to single-handedly will Birmingham back in the game. She poured in 9 of her game-high 21 points in the quarter, but her counterpart in Boco matched her with 9 points of her own as the Highlanders cruised to a 10-point victory.

“Lopez was great for us. She is going to fight until the end. Unfortunately, the team around her just couldn’t make enough shots,” said Patriots headman Victor Koopongsakorn on the team’s performance. “You are not going to outshoot Granada. I hoped that our defense would create enough opportunities for us to outscore them, but we just couldn’t find enough offense to pull the game out.”

There is no rest for the weary for either of these teams as every game out presents a new and different challenge in the West Valley. The Patriots will look to get back on track and keep pace with Granada and Taft in the standings when they hit the road to take on a gritty Chatsworth team Friday afternoon. Granada Hills will look to move to 2-0 in the league when they take on Taft at home Friday.

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