SAN CLEMENTE — After a neck and neck first half of play, late game adjustments and heroic shooting propelled Tesoro girls’ basketball to their sixth straight win, and third straight league victory on Tuesday night.
The Titans closed out San Clemente with a dominant 54-42 win and now share possession of first place in the South Coast League with San Juan Hills.
From tip-off, a very physical tone was set by both teams — characterized by a handful of hard-fought offensive rebounds, a couple of and-one finishes at the rim, and air-tight coverage on the perimeter.
Tesoro’s junior team captain Celine Castaneda muscled the Titans to an early advantage, converting an and-one on her first shot attempt, and cashing in another layup to give her team a 12-11 lead by the second quarter.
San Clemente (8-10, 2-2) responded by simply getting sophomore guard Claire Pham the basketball, and letting her do the rest.
Pham led the Tritons with 16 points total, half of which came in the second quarter.
Despite Pham’s hot hand, the Tritons still trailed Tesoro 26-25 at half, and the deficit would only get larger as more time went off the clock.
“I just took open shots and wasn’t hesitating,” said Pham, who finished with 16 points. “But we just need to improve on our communication and make sure we’re on the same page.”
After noticeable adjustments defensively, the second half belonged to the Titans.
Tesoro (13-9, 3-0) was able to play a very tough man-to-man defense, and continually forced the ball outside to Triton shooters who had trouble knocking down consistent 3-pointers.
“We wanted to be more aggressive rebounding, ” Titans head coach Jim Arneson said. “We switched defensive pieces a little bit to focus on [San Clemente’s] shooters and scorers.”
Lara Prasad, junior guard for Tesoro, had a red-hot second half, which included three-straight threes from the corner. Prasad finished the game as the Titan’s leading scorer, tallying 18 points in the winning effort.
“My teammates gave me so much strength to be confident in my shot no matter what was going on in the game, and we all really clenched-in and focused on this team effort,” Prasad said. “My whole team led to this win.”
Tesoro closed out the game with ease, and departed from San Clemente with a 3-0 league record, and also an opportunity to earn some serious separation in the South Coast League standings.
Tesoro will face San Juan Hills on Tuesday, Jan. 25 in a game that will decide the lone league leader with only about two weeks left in the season.
Coming off of six straight wins, the Titans are in serious contention for their first league title since 2015.
“This team has got a lot of heart,” Arneson said. “We don’t have a ton of size, but we play hard.”