PASADENA • The season came to a close for the Barstow girls varsity basketball team on Thursday, but the squad went down fighting.
The Aztecs were matched-up with South Pasadena for a first-round CIF Tournament road game, and after a fierce battle, the Tigers ended up on top, 47-42.
"It was a great game," said Aztecs assistant coach Marvin Ellis. "We put on a great show, we just came up on the wrong end."
It was a match in which the Aztecs dug themselves a big early hole before finding their way out and making it a nailbiter. The Tigers jumped on top with a strong first quarter; the home team must have thought it was about to author a laugher for itself, as it held a 20-6 lead after the first eight minutes.
"They came out on fire. They probably shot 70 percent from the floor in the first," said Ellis. "We took a look at what they were doing and made some defensive adjustments."
The Tigers were depending, as they have all season, on the offense of senior Kelsey Nakamura. She led her team to that big early lead, but she wasn't a factor after the first quarter, as the Aztec defense got in gear.
"We put Jasmine (Green) and Kadjuah (Lewis) on Nakamura and shut her down," said Ellis. "We completely took them out of their offensive game. Their players were looking for (Nakamura) and we were denying her the ball. They put up a lot of missed shots during that period."
That period stretched through the second and third quarters. Barstow didn't get its offense going until the third, but scored nine points in the second, while holding Pasadena to only seven, putting the Tigers up, 27-15, at the half.
The Aztecs' strategy was just as effective in the third. They quickly whittled down the deficit, and by the start of the final quarter, the home team held just a one-point lead, sitting on top by a 30-29 score.
Though the Aztecs pulled ahead briefly in the fourth, the Tigers were able to hold the slight edge through most of the quarter. Faced with trailing by just a handful of points down the stretch, Barstow was forced to foul, putting the Tigers at the line for eight shots in the last couple of minutes.
"They shot just well enough to win," said Ellis. "They only made four of their free throws, but ironically, that was the difference in the game."
Indeed, those four points, plus the one that Pasadena led by going into the fourth, were the margin of victory.
Center Kaitlyn Parks has been an offensive sparkplug for the Aztecs all year, and proved just as valuable to her team on Thursday. Parks picked up a triple-double, with 19 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks. Vasa Alefaio was also a huge factor off the boards, with 11 rebounds, along with four points and five steals. In all, seven Aztecs put up points. Defensively, Barstow held Nakamura to just one field goal in the second half.
The loss gave the Aztecs a final record of 12-13.
"The girls played a phenomenal game. We're a very tenacious team; you don't see teams scrapping on the floor for loose balls like you do with Barstow," said coach Ellis. "The girls were disppointed when it was over, but they knew they gave it everything they had. They left it all on the court."
Ellis is already looking forward to next season. He thinks the Aztec girls basketball program is in fine shape.
"We had 25 girls this year and only four seniors," he said. "We'll hit the ground running next year; it will be tough to make the JV team. The girls will really need to put in the work in the off-season to make the program."
This year's team contained a lot of young players, and Ellis and head coach Anthony Nolen were very pleased by their progress.
"We're proud of what they did," Ellis said. "No one gave us a shot at anything, and we made the playoffs. Our goals will be even loftier next year."