LA North & Orange County: Uninspired
Santa Margarita has a hot hand in victory

March, 9, 2010
3/09/10
9:58
PM PT
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA – As the Southern California favorite to reach the State finals on March 27 in Bakersfield, Santa Margarita carries the weight of the Division III Regional on its shoulders. The Eagles weren't just playing to win Tuesday against North Hills Monroe, they were also positioning themselves for games Thursday and Saturday. They needed to win, but they needed to conserve their resources in what will be a brutally tough three-game week.

With generally uninspired play in the first half – it sure looked as if Santa Margarita was resting, if not on its laurels then its haunches – it was mission accomplished. Santa Margarita scored a 71-46 victory over Monroe, the Los Angeles City Section runner-up in Division 3.

Southern Section Division 3A champion Santa Margarita (24-6) must play better, and certainly more inspired, on Thursday against Ventura Buena, which won't cut the Eagles the same slack as Monroe's inexperienced team. Buena won easily over Lake Balboa Birmingham, the team that beat Monroe for the section title.

The saving grace for Santa Margarita was its extraordinary shooting percentage, 13 of 25 in the first half to build a 28-15 lead, and 25 of 42 by the time the starters left in the fourth quarter with a 66-30 margin.

“As soon as you win a championship like that, you get scared the girls will cut it off, like we're done,” said first-year coach Matt Houser. “The first half, we played like that.”

UC Santa Barbara-bound Melissa Zornig scored 26 points. She made six consecutive three-point attempts, wrapped around a turnaround jumper, in the second half as Santa Margarita came to life. Denise Fernandez added 15.

The visiting Vikings (23-9), for all their shooting woes and without a senior starter, were surprisingly close early. Just two of 18 from the field, Asiyat Avolabi's three-point basket made it a six-point game midway through the second quarter, 14-8, although that was the closest Monroe would get. Junior Ani Avanessian scored 14 for Monroe, which started two juniors, two sophomores and freshman Ayisat Afolabi, who scored nine.

“We understand the benefits of resting,” Houser said, “but you always want to start hard and rest in the second half. It's upsetting that we had to play starters longer than we wanted.”

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