On Feb. 28, Aragon’s girls basketball team (14-10 overall, 7-5 Peninsula Athletic League) lost to Leigh (18-6 overall, 13-1 Blossom Valley League) in a 46-43 nailbiter in the Central Coast Section Division II Playoffs.
Statistically, both teams, ranked outside of the top four in the tournament, were not expected to make it to the semifinals. Prior to Tuesday’s game, Aragon’s girls basketball program hadn’t reached the CCS semifinals for 11 years, so they weren’t taking the matchup lightly. “We watched tons and tons of film [of Leigh],” explained head coach Sam Manu. “We knew what they were going to.”
The Dons started off shaky, allowing the Longhorns to get off to a 6-0 start in the first minutes of the game before Aragon junior forward Kelsey Dobbs scored four straight points to bring the score to 4-6. Aragon recovered and quickly found its groove, as they gained a 9-8 lead by the end of the first quarter, resorting back to their game plan.
The two semifinalists remained locked in a back-and-forth game, with neither able to gain an advantage. Between Leigh missing back-to-back breakaway layups in the final minute of the third quarter and Aragon shooting 4-16 on three-pointers during the first three quarters, both teams were unable to convert their chances to pull away. As a result, the fourth quarter began with a 32-32 headlock.
Down 35-36 a couple minutes into the quarter, the red and black needed a spark, and found it in junior guard Kalisi Fononga, who was called up to the varsity team just a few weeks ago after sophomore center Angellia Lilomaiava’s injury. The junior banked in a long three to put the red and black up 38-36.
“I do think [that show] was a momentum shifter,” Fononga said. “I think it gave us more energy and a thought to play harder since we were taking the lead at the time.”
The Dons fell behind again, and with one minute left, were trailing 40-44. However, freshman point guard Lydia Manu saw an opportunity to shoot up a three-pointer, and miraculously it fell, putting the Dons within one point of the Longhorns.
“That three was big in that moment,” she explained, “But my mindset immediately changed to how we were going to play defensively [on the ensuing possession].”
Although the Dons put up 11 points in the final quarter, they were outscored singlehandedly by Leigh senior guard Hannah Peterson, who added 14 points in the final period to her eventual 24-point performance. During the fourth quarter alone, she shot 5-9 from the field, including going 3-4 on threes, and made six of her final seven shots, icing the victory for her team.
“When you look back, you could always think of ways to do better. But for us, we did the best we could and gave it our all,” Lydia Manu said. “I’m just so thankful we were able to play in the semifinals … that was a huge blessing for us.”
Although the loss will sting the red and black for a little while, the team has a lot to look forward to. “This was supposed to be a building year,” explained Sam Manu, “And they exceeded that. I’m really excited for them.”
Aragon’s entire starting lineup from Tuesday will be returning to the team next year, so the team understandable has high expectations for their futures: “My goal next year is to make it to the finals for CCS,” continued Lydia Manu.
With the loss to Leigh, the Dons played their final game of their season. However, the Longhorns are set to take on Presentation — the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed — on Mar. 4.