LANCASTER — Win and you’re in.
The game between the Eastside and Antelope Valley girls basketball teams had serious playoff implications.
The winner between the Lions and Antelopes would earn the No. 4 seed in the Golden League and with it grab the automatic playoff berth from the league.
One team looked as if it was desperate to keep its season alive and the other looked as if it was ready for the season to be over.
AV High led from start to finish and put on an impressive show on Senior Night as it easily defeated Eastside with a 48-28 victory, Thursday night at Antelope Valley High School.
“This was an emotional game and we started off sloppy. They were still emotional in the first four minutes, but once we settled in we did what we needed to do,” ’Lopes head coach Brandon Walker said. “We wanted to run, that’s our game. I thought we played well defensively and our rebounding tonight was huge. Rebounding starts everything. We want to get out and push the ball.”
On the flipside, the Lions had one of their poorest performances of the season.
“They didn’t care tonight. It’s very disappointing. This team has the capability of beating anyone in this league outside of Knight and Lancaster,” Eastside head coach Gerard Nelson said. “When they play with heart, they play. You can say everything you want and motivate all you want, but they didn’t want to do any of it. Nobody took leadership and I’ve never seen a team with no heart.”
With the victory, the ’Lopes finished with a 7-7 record in league play and coupled with Quartz Hill’s loss to Lancaster, AV High grabbed the fourth slot. Both the Lions and Rebels finished with 6-8 records.
AV High will only graduate two seniors this year, Ebony Walker and Marquesha Wright and the rest of the ’Lopes made sure to send them off on a positive note.
AV High took advantage of its home court early in the game as it jumped out to a 13-2 lead in the first 5½ minutes of the game. Consecutive 3-pointers by Aaliyah Jackson and Zuri Morris helped build that lead.
The Lions’ offense was non-existent as they connected on only one field goal in the first quarter by Bella Velasquez, with 1:45 remaining in the first. The ’Lopes led 19-4 after one as Morris had five points and Walker and Wright each added four in the session.
“It was our Senior Night so we wanted to come out swinging. This win was very important to us. It was kind of the icing on my career, which started when I was a freshman,” said Ebony Walker. “We wanted to end with a bang. We executed what coach wanted us to do. It was my last game so I had to give it all I had. There’s only two seniors and we owed it to ourselves.”
Walker finished with five points, but it was her tenacious rebounding that led to several fast-break opportunities for the ’Lopes. One play in the second quarter, following a missed shot by the Lions, Walker rebounded and outletted the pass to Morris who hit a streaking Wright for an easy uncontested layup and a 26-8 lead.
Leading 19-4 after one, AV High’s offense went stale. Eastside, however, connected again on only one field goal and despite netting only two field goals, the ’Lopes extended their lead to 27-8 at halftime.
“I’m just really excited for the girls. They lost faith in the middle of the season. They thought they weren’t going to make the playoffs,” Brandon Walker said. “When we had a 10-game losing streak I told the girls to just keep believing. I kept repeating myself and now look at us. I know we’re better than a number four seed.”
The ’Lopes’ full-court pressure defense forced Eastside to commit 21 turnovers, which helped build their lead.
AV High had five players score five or more points led by Wright’s 10 followed by Jackson who finished with nine. The Lions were led by Velasquez and Skylar Blankenship, each with six.
“We came out feeling we could win this game. It’ sad because this is my last game in high school,” Eastside’s Sienna Rodriguez said. “I think we played alright, but not how we usually play. This is the last time I’ll play with my friends.”