Freshman point guard Judith Espinoza’s dominant 22-point second-half scoring spree was too much for Skagit Valley Community College to handle as the women’s basketball team advanced to the final of the Glendale CC Vaquero Shootout with a tense and see-sawing 74-66 win on Saturday night.
Pasadena fell behind 11-2 in the opening several minutes with a misfiring offense, sloppy turnovers and poor perimeter defense as Skagit was gifted with a trio of three pointers. Freshman Kyrstin Nakamura put on her own outside shooting clinic by extracting revenge with three treys in the midst of consistently wayward passing and costly errors by the Lancers as they played anxiously and allowed the pressure to hamper their game plan.
Regerina Baker and Judith Espinoza , the standout performers from PCC’s opening round win, were contained by the Fighting Cardinals in the opening stanza mainly because the Lancers were their own worst enemies. Inaccurate passing and elementary misses behind the free throw line left them behind 23-15 after 13 minutes and PCC trailed at halftime.
Espinoza began strongly after the break with a sneaky steal that created a breakaway lay-up and her confidence compounded from there, as she erased her quiet first half with a classy and memorable performance at a time when her team needed her the most.
Head coach Joe Peron was understandably pleased with his side’s win and had glowing praise for Espinoza while acknowledging key contributions from sophomore center Chanelle Fisher, Baker and Nakamura.
“I’m always happy when we win, I was impressed with Chanelle playing harder and making some rebounds and Baker snapping back the second-half, but of course my little point guard Judith did a great job,” Peron said. “I think it was Kyrstin’s turn in the first half and then they traded off and let Judith have the second-half, it worked out good.”
With 12 minutes remaining, Nakamura again came to the Lancers’ rescue with a pair of three pointers that cut the deficit down to three points immediately after freshman Hope Peron missed four consecutive free throws, highlighting PCC’s struggles behind the line.
Nakamura, whose 15 points were courtesy of a game-high five three pointers, attributed her team’s phenomenal second-half to their admirable fighting qualities and ability to take advantage of the momentum they generated.
“I thought we played hard, we had some errors but I think we really came back in the second half and gave it our all. It came down to who wanted it more and I know how much the team wanted it and we just fought and once we get going we’re going,” Nakamura said.
Pint-sized point guard Espinoza came into her own by driving the Lancers offense with poise in the face of extreme pressure and was given the necessary freedom due to her team’s suffocating defense. She served up fade-away jumpers, a pair of clutch three pointers, reliable free-throws and an all-round impressive shooting display that left the Fighting Cardinals scratching their heads at the damage inflicted by the ex-Eagle Rock High School student.
Espinoza, the top scorer with 29 points, felt that it was her team’s vocal support and communication, along with better shot selections and the extra confidence she gained from her purple patch that allowed them to come out on top over Skagit Valley.
“We played smarter, we hit easier shots and our energy on our bench really helped us a lot and on the court we talked a lot more,” Espinoza said. “In the first half I wasn’t really making the best passes, so whenever I was in the same situation in the second half I didn’t pass the ball and I started driving in a lot more and doing a couple of jump-stops trying to get the foul and more of my shots were going in so I gained more confidence.”