BARSTOW • "We had a great game plan, we just didn't stick to it."
Those were the words of Barstow girls basketball coach Anthony Nolen after Thursday's game. The Lady Aztecs hosted St. Joseph High School from Lakewood in a first round CIF-SS match, and lost to the Jesters, 67-32.
St. Joseph held the lead the entire game, steadily building up the points. The visitors were ahead, 13-5, after the first quarter, and had widened that edge to 12 points by halftime.
The Jesters pressed for the whole first half, and Barstow did a good job of getting the ball downcourt. It was what took place after the Aztecs were in the offensive zone that caused so many possessions to turn up empty.
"The press wasn't the problem; after we broke the press, we made turnovers," said Nolen. "The game plan was to rebound, play defense, control the ball, and communicate. I feel we failed in every area."
The Jesters did grab almost every rebound and loose ball. On the occasions the Aztecs had trouble breaking the press, the result was usually a steal.
"The strength of this team is blocks, getting the ball down low," said Nolen. "And when you miss your chance in the postseason, you don't get another."
The bulk of the Jesters' offense came from two players, Michele Penuala and Jazmine Gandhi. The two combined for 35 points, and while Gandhi only made one of her five free throws, Penuala was dangerous when fouled, going 6-for-7 from the line.
Still, the Lady Aztecs hung with their opponents through the first half. The point gap widened in the third, but Barstow still put up 12 points. The fourth was when the wheels came off, as the home team was outscored, 18-2.
Six Lady Aztecs got on the board, led by Vasa Alefaio with 11 points. Kayla Theis had eight points, and Maxine Cook, seven.
Though this season is over, coach Nolen is already thinking about next year. While he'll lose eight seniors, players like Alefaio and Cook, who have contributed much this year, will be back. And they'll be back after a solid season and with playoff experience.
"That's what this game was about; we play for today, but work for tomorrow," said the coach. "The unique thing about this team is we have no big points leader, but everyone contributes. Anyone is capable of having a big night. I think we have a really good future."
The Lady Aztecs have made great strides just over the past two years. Getting the young players some postseason experience can only help.
"I'm proud of the girls. They still played hard for three quarters," Nolen said. "And I'm proud we made it to CIF's. The league just keeps getting better every year, teams keep getting tougher, which makes it harder to do. I don't want the ladies to forget that our primary goal was to make the postseason, and we did that."
There were also two Lady Aztecs who grabbed postseason honors, as Alefaio and Theis were named to the first team All-Desert Sky League.