Palm Desert High School has featured a sports program that has seen across-the-board success with its athletic teams in recent years, and on Thursday night it was the girls’ basketball team’s turn to join in the fun.
The Aztecs ended a 14-year drought, picking up the first girls’ basketball playoff victory since 2003 with a gutsy performance in a 46-42 home victory over Jurupa Valley in a Division 4AA first-round playoff game.
“Most of our girls hadn’t played in a playoff game, so we had to get the jitters out and we just said ‘You know what? Let’s just go out and play our game,’ ” coach Adam Emmer said. “Grind and believe. They believed in the system, ran our stuff and played incredible defense. Big win. They played hard. They earned it.”
Palm Desert trailed by four heading into the fourth, but scored the first 10 points of the quarter to take a 40-34 lead. The burst was capped by a 3-pointer from Alexis Legan that brought the crowd to its feet. Jurupa Valley, behind the talented Tianna Burrell who finished with 25 points, chipped away at the lead, and cut it to 42-41 with 40 seconds left. The Aztecs had a long possession, that didn’t seem to be developing the way it was supposed to, but Seline Schinke worked herself into the clear and launched one from two steps behind the 3-point line. Swish.
That gave the Aztecs a crucial four-point, two-possession cushion and they used their trademark vice-like defense the rest of the way to secure the win.
“Coach wanted me to drive to the basket more and try to draw fouls and get layups so I hadn’t been taking many 3s,” Schinke said. “But when that one went in, ‘Wow!’ It was a good feeling.”
Schinke led the Aztecs with 22 points, and provided some drama in the third quarter when she rolled her ankle and stayed on the ground for two or three minutes, while a pin-drop silent crowd watched the trainer working on her. Eventually she walked under her own power to the bench.
She missed the next three minutes while she tested her ankle and got her breath back, and, importantly, the team played well and stayed in the game without their catalyst.
“My heart dropped, when she was down, but once I knew she’d be OK, I knew we had to get to work without her,” senior guard Marisa Givens said. “We knew we have to work harder and smarter when she’s not out there, and we’ve had games without her earlier in the season, so we were ready.”
Legan finished with 10 points, and Givens had eight. The Aztecs also got some great interior play from Ehizogie Igbinedion, who hauled in 16 rebounds, many of them crucial. Reserve Julia Teeple also played, attacking the basket with confidence and drawing several Jurupa Valley fouls in the process.
“Some times it takes a while for us to start up our engines, and that was the case tonight,” Schinke said. “It’s one and done. It’s my senior season and there are eight seniors on the team and we really just wanted to go out and show what we could.”
What they did is get the school’s first girls’ basketball playoff win in 14 years. Getting the win and ending that drought was important. If they get two wins, they will have really done something. That’s because next up for the Aztecs is a trip to the Los Angeles area to play Village Christian, the No. 1 team in Division 4AA.
Can the Aztecs pull off the upset?
“It’s big, I’m ready to go,” Givens said. “All we have to do is play hard, play smart and play together.”
Then Givens and Schinke sort of giggled to each other before turning around to show that their warm-up T-shirts actually said “Play hard, play smart and play together” on them.
Well-played Marisa. Well-played.