By Steve Ramirez
WHITTIER – As far as Santa Fe High School girls basketball coach Matt Zamora is concerned, the success of the Chiefs is all about defense.
Santa Fe showed why Thursday night.
The Chiefs used a solid effort on the defensive end to break away in the second half en route to a 51-41 victory over host La Serna in a key Del Rio League game.
Santa Fe, getting 14 points from Jackie Saiza and 11 rebounds and seven points from Dijonnae Murphy, improved to 13-9 overall and 4-1 in league play. The Chiefs, who travel to El Rancho on Monday, are at league-leader Whittier on Wednesday.
La Serna, which had won six out of its last seven before Thursday, slipped to 9-12 and 3-2. Nannette Beightol had 14 points and Ruby Nichols had 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Lancers, who host Whittier on Monday.
Santa Fe, which has won six out of its last eight games, held its seventh opponent in its last eight under 40 points. The exception being Whittier, which scored a 40-33 over the Chiefs on Jan. 13.
“As much as I love offense, we’re just a great defensive team,” Zamora said. “That’s what we’re better at. In the beginning, we started out a little slow.
“But once we started getting settled in, and locked in, I thought our defense took over the game for us in the second half.”
Santa Fe, which fought back from a 10-5 deficit, seized control with a 7-2 run during the middle of the third quarter.
Desiree Pureco and Alisa Bueno hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push it to 30-22 before Saiza followed an inside shot by La Serna’s Brandee Alfaro with a free throw for a 31-24 lead.
The Lancers, getting 3-pointers from Nichols and Beightol, cut it to two at 35-33 by the first minute of the fourth quarter, but Santa Fe forced three consecutive stops and countered with a 3-pointer by Bueno at 5:40 and a three-point play by Saiza for a 44-33 lead with 2:28 left.
“They really don’t extend their pressure, either three-quarter or full court,” La Serna coach Michelle Ortiz said. “We just didn’t adjust very well, offensively.
“Most of it was self-inflicted. It was our own silly (mistakes).”
La Serna, which had just three turnovers, was looking good early.
The Lancers, getting outside shots from Beightol and Cheyanne Garcia, led 10-5 with just over a minute left in the first quarter.
Santa Fe countered with an 8-2 run to go up 13-12 at 5:30 of the second before leading 22-20 at the half and taking over during the final two quarters.
But the Chiefs took control in the second half to possibly set up next week’s showdown against Whittier.
“A loss (tonight) would have put us out of league-title contention,” Zamora said. “Luckily, we have the win. We still have El Rancho on Monday, and hopefully we can take care of business and get another shot at Whittier.”
By Steve Ramirez