East County Sports

Patriots earn rank over elite Matadors



EastCountySports.com staff report

EL CAJON – In a battle between No. 1 versus No. 1, let the record show that there wasn’t a discernible distance between the Christian Patriots and the Mount Miguel Matadors on Saturday night when the powerhouses met in a Martin Luther King Jr. special at Ryan Athletic Center.

Generally, the East’s two best teams played to their strengths and tried to take away what the other team does well.

As a result, Christian High, the top-ranked team in the major local independent girls basketball poll, outlasted the Mount Miguel, the top-ranked team by the Union-Tribune’s expert, 60-56, in front of appeciative and knowledgable fans at the RAC.

“We aren’t worried about the top 10 right now,” Christian High head coach VICKIE CARRINGTON said. “I don’t feel like we are playing for the rankings. We are playing for God and each other. I think we all felt pretty good after winning this game but it’s just another game and we have to get prepared for the next one. It feels great to accomplish something with the people that I love the most.”

The margin may have been as slim as a home-court advantage or perhaps an untimely technical on the visitors when a sub rushed too quickly on the floor buoyed by the horn despite not being waved in, resulting in a quick four-point swing three minutes into the final stanza.

Sophomore SYLENA PETERSON, of the Matadors, did nothing but cement herself as a top contender for county player of the year honors, scoring 30 points (14 coming from the free-throw line, including 10 from the line in the fourth).

But the Patriots’ KRISTIN WILLIAMS had her sharp shot from beyond the arc, canning four three-pointers.

Williams and teammate AMAYA HOWARD combined for four threes in the third period, as Christian High erased the Matadors’ 31-29 halftime lead.

“Kristin and Amaya were on fire,” Carrington said. “Amaya has been so consistent for the past five or six games.”

The hot streak put the Pats up 45-40 heading into the fourth quarter.

Senior guard TIAJA BENNETT (12 points) had the other Matadors’ hot hand, but Carrington was proud of how her team handled Mt. Miguel’s outside game with JASMYN CRAWFORD and ALLIE CARREON.

“In practice, we emphasized our defense and how to play good, hard and smart defense,” Carrington said. “I think it just translated into the game and it showed. I’m proud of my team and the way they came out last night.”

Junior SIMONE JAMES added nine points for Christian (15-5), while Carreon had a big say with a three-pointer during a surge by the Patriots that generally decided the outcome.

I believe this year we have accomplished so many things,” Carrington said. “We are getting better and better every day physically and spiritually. I believe the team was excited about the win and believe greater things can happen for us. Now it’s time to prepare for the next one.”

Patriot senior guard YESI SMITH had an off-balance basket and converted the foul shot in the third quarter, but the Matadors’ LALLI GURROLA came back down made a three-pointer moments later.

But it was Smith’s work defensively in the fourth that resulted in a pair of critical steals and a series of baskets by Christian to put the game on practically on ice in the final 1:30.

“We knew the game would be a close one,” Gurrola said. “Despite the loss, this game is the best game we’ve played this entire season. We were focused, locked in, and playing our hearts out.”

The teams are quite possibly headed for a bigger meeting in the future as possible top-four seeds in the Open Division’s eight-team postseason format but only the seedings and their playoff success will determine if that ever comes to fruition.

Another popular media outlet had the Matadors ranked sixth before this weekend’s games, but that could be revisited after Saturday’s close result.

“It was just a few mistakes we should have fixed and should have performed better on,” Peterson said. “Christian is a good team and they did what they did. The game was something my team can look back at and learn what to do differently or better.”

As for Christian, their depth and balance has been key in the team’s rise to the top of the rankings, although the Patriots certainly extended the minutes of the top regulars in this one

“It’s great that our hard work is showing and translating into the game,” Carrington said. “We still have so much work to do and rankings are something that feels good but in the end, it’s all glory to God.”

If this was the only time the teams would meet, then thanks to them for putting on a special performance.

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