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February 21, 2020
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Cougars prevail in epic affair with Maria Carrillo

  • Rancho Cotate High School sophomore, Keyonne Neal, doesn't let anyone stop her from scoring two points during their game against Maria High School on Fri., Jan. 17. The Cougars hosted the Pumas and after an exciting game, defeated them 57-53. Photo by Jane Peleti

By: Paul Matli
January 24, 2020

It was the battle for first place Friday night. The Rancho Cotate Women’s Basketball team and Maria Carrillo Pumas came into the game with identical league records. Both teams were 3-0, which meant only one team would leave unbeaten and have an upper hand in the North Bay League. It was the Cougars who prevailed 57-53 behind 17 points from Tatum Maytorena and a 15-point 15 rebound performance from sophomore guard Keyonee Neal.

The game lived up to the hype. The Pumas jumped out early in the first quarter, then the Cougars rallied to lead by 6 after one. An even second quarter meant the Cougars entered halftime with a 6-point lead. The Pumas flipped the script in the third quarter; they came out guns blazing. The Pumas outscored the Cougars 19-8 in the third to take a 40-35 lead.

Instead of losing focus and intensity after the Pumas’ third quarter surge, the Cougars hit them right back. The combination of Maytorena scoring, Neal’s rebounding, passing and scoring along with senior captain Leslie Bejaran running the point, the Cougars stormed back to win the fourth quarter 22-14 in route to a 4-point win.

The early season hasn’t been easy for the women, so seeing them come away with a huge league win will be great for the teams moral moving forward.

Head Coach Mario Newton thought the girls played well and he was proud of how they were able to overcome a subpar shooting performance.

“I thought the girls played well actually,” Newton said. “I can’t take anything away from Carrillo, they played hard, they played aggressive. We knew we had to play a hard, fast and aggressive game to beat them. We weren’t shooting that well in the first half, which made a difference and they were outrunning us, but we made some adjustments at halftime.”

One thing that was on display for those in attendance was the aggressive style of play from both teams. The Cougars have a number of traps and presses which they implement throughout the game. This defense forced the Pumas into turnovers early in the game. The Pumas also implemented various trapping schemes against the Cougars. Both teams wanted to play aggressive and fast and it resulted in a high level of play. 

The Cougars didn’t have a great night shooting against the Pumas. They made just two threes to the Pumas five. This, along with hustle plays, is what Coach Newton thought kept the Pumas in the ball game.

“I think the threes kept them in the game and their hustle,” Newton said. “I asked my girls what you thought kept them in the game and they said hustle. Also, the fact we had more turnovers than we wanted was the last factor.”

Those who are familiar with the Cougars’ basketball program know that this year’s record isn’t close to what it was last year. The Cougars went 24-5 last season and made it to the Quarterfinals of the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs before losing to the Montgomery Vikings.

There’s a number of factors why the record doesn’t look as good this year. The first is a tougher schedule. Usually when a team has a really good season they get rewarded with a tougher schedule. The Cougars chose to play really good competition early on to get them ready for league play.

The biggest thing though, is injuries. The Cougars have been snake bit all year with injuries. The Cougars entered the season with 12 active players and three of them are currently hurt. Two are for sure out for the season and the other is trending towards not playing either, according to Newton, so the Cougars have just nine active players. This means they need to play hard for the minutes they are in and Coach Newton needs to sub more to keep them fresh. 

Probably the most significant injury was to Barajan, the senior point guard. She missed 9 games early this season and the Cougars struggled without her calming presence in the lineup. 

“It’s going to take a team effort to overcome the injuries,” Newton said. “I’m still very confident as a coach because the girls we have played really, really well and I feel confident going deep into the bench.”

As for Friday’s game, Coach Newton had nothing but praise for Barajan, Neal and Maytorena. He especially praised the rebounding of Neal and Maytorena and said that was key for the Cougars’ win.

“I think they played good games,” Newton said. “Keyonne had 15 points and 15 rebounds, rebounding is one thing she does really well. Tatum is an undersized small forward at 5’5’’, she banged the boards and got some good rebounds. Both of those girls did amazing on the boards and helping us break the press.”

Though the Cougars won the first round, they will see the Pumas again. Newton knows the next game won’t be easy and he gave community members a little preview on what to expect for the next game.

“We definitely want to be prepared and come out with a little bit more energy than what we came out with this time,” Newton said. “We want to make sure we minimize the turnovers we have.

Newton also believes the Cougars will shoot better in the rematch, so he feels good with where his team is. The Cougars are currently 12-8 on the season and have won five games in a row.