The early race for the first-ever Ocean League girls basketball title still involves perennial CIF playoff contender Nipomo.
And the Titans went with a relentless man-to-man defense to slow down a red-hot Orcutt Academy team that has already shattered the school record for most wins in a single season, rolling past the Spartans 58-33 on Friday night at Lakeview Junior High’s gym.
The win keeps the Titans a game behind current league leader Pioneer Valley; a 59-45 winner on Friday which elevated its record to 5-0 in league games. Nipomo is the league’s only other unbeaten team at 4-0 through O.L contests.
And Nipomo had to stave off a Spartans’ team that entered Lakeview’s gym at 13-4 overall – the best start in OAHS girls basketball history.
The Titans (11-7 overall) jumped out to a 6-0 lead to start the first quarter. Their man scheme forced erratic passes on the Spartans’ side, which led to multiple turnovers and scoring opportunities for NHS.
Head coach David Mendez said defense was the chief catalyst behind the Titans’ rout of a vastly improved Spartans team.
“It was just us playing solid defense and contesting every shot,” Mendez said. “We played in-your-face defense and made them see what they can do. It was a great Orcutt Academy team and we just buckled down and played solid defense.”
Nipomo leaped to a 14-2 lead before the Spartans (13-5, 2-2 in the O.L) started to find an early rhythm. Orcutt Academy managed to get on a 7-0 run before Clarissa Simonson nailed a 3-pointer toward the end of the opening period to make it 17-9.
The Titans never wavered from their feisty defensive approach from there.
Nipomo forced more bad passing attempts on the Spartans’ side and ended the second quarter leading 30-15. The Titans continued to fluster the Spartans in the third – outscoring the home team 15-1 during that quarter to take the commanding 29-point lead.
Orcutt Academy rediscovered its 3-point touch in the fourth – knocking down four attempts from behind the arc. Giselle Calderon nailed three of those long distance buckets and finished with nine points in the final quarter.
But OAHS head coach Tom Robb brought up the turnovers on the Spartans’ end, citing those miscues as what helped bury Orcutt Academy in this league contest.
“We’ve got to stop turning the ball over,” Robb said. “That really hurt us this game. It seems like in our losses we turn it over a lot more. We’re a young team so we tend to force things a little bit. We need to stop trying to force things.”
Clarissa Simonson finished with 14 for NHS. Kacie Slover also had 14 for the visiting Titans. Kat Anderson finished with 12 and helped lead the Titans’ transition attack after helping create turnovers.
Orcutt Academy entered the contest with three girls averaging in double figures for points according to Max Preps: Calderon, Mariah Lopez and Vanessa Salazar. But Salazar was out due to an injury and only Calderon was in double figures, as she led the Spartans with 14 points, 12 off of 3’s. Marlie Jimenez and Izzy Wasserman added one 3-pointer apiece for the Spartans.
Despite the 25-point loss, Robb has witnessed a program that’s trekking upward in Old Town Orcutt. Past girls basketball teams at OAHS has endured either five or one-win seasons and the most the program has won in a season before 2018-19 was 10 games.
“It’s been outstanding,” Robb said. “They do work hard. I don’t expect us to only have 13 wins, I expect us to have a few more. I expect us to still be in the race for that Ocean League too. It’s just a loss and a small setback and we’ll just get back to working hard.”
Mendez also believes that the league, featuring two improved products in Pioneer Valley and OAHS, has made the inaugural season a tough one right away.
“It’s competitive. It’s balanced,” Mendez said. “Everyone is trying to figure each other out in the first half of the season and I think in the second half, it’ll be more exciting to play because everyone has figured out everybody.”
Nipomo travels to Morro Bay on Tuesday for a 6:45 p.m. game. The Spartans will travel to Santa Maria for their 6:45 p.m. road game against the Saints, also set for Tuesday.
San Luis Obispo 3, St. Joseph 0
The Tigers scored their hat trick in the first half, leading to the shutout victory over the Knights.
St. Joseph head coach Al Garcia, though, praised the attitude of SLO head coach Brittney Viboch.
"We had some positive comments from their coach," Garcia said by phone. "We limited their corner kicks in the second half, which was their strength. It's really good considering we're young."
The Knights fall to 8-8 overall and 0-4 in the league, plus fell to a highly ranked Tigers team that's rated No. 1 in the CIF Central Section Division I realm by Max Preps.