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Granada Hills Charter comes from behind to beat Birmingham 57-50 in West Valley League showdown: 3 takeaways

Marianne Boco scored 23 points for the Highlanders, who won the fourth quarter 22-6.

LAKE BALBOA– Granada Hills Charter owned the fourth quarter on Saturday to take down Birmingham 57-50 in a West Valley League heavyweight slugfest. Marianne Boco led all scorers with 23 points for the Highlanders. Here are three takeaways from the game:

GRANADA COMES UP CLUTCH IN GAME OF RUNS

Speaking of heavyweight slugfests and Lake Balboa, Granada did its best Rocky Balboa on Saturday, playing from behind the entire game and finishing it with one devastating knockout punch.

Birmingham energetically jumped out to a 17-7 lead through the first quarter that quickly expanded to 19-7 and 22-10. Granada responded with a 7-0 run to cut it to 24-17 before the Patriots scored four more points to take a 28-17 halftime lead. Coming out of halftime with renewed energy that they'd maintain for the rest of the game, the Highlanders owned the first half of the third quarter and cut the deficit to 33-32. But Birmingham matched their run with an 11-3 run to end the third.

From there on out, it was all GHC. In the fourth quarter, the Highlanders out-executed Birmingham on both ends and knocked down shots to win the final frame 22-6 and seal a 57-50 victory.

"It was just a lot of grit, a lot of toughness," said Granada head coach Jared Honig on the second-half turnaround.

"We talked about, before the game, matching and exceeding their physicality, and we just weren't quite there. We [told them at halftime] that we had to really improve on that, and if we didn't, the second half was going to go the same way, and that if we did, we'd be able to turn it around."

On the fourth quarter run, he said, "I think it was just execution, sticking with it, staying tough... and we've played a lot of tough teams to prepare for league. So we just stepped up, our leaders took over, Calista and Marianne really controlled the tempo, and we executed out of timeouts on defense. The charges from Krystal (Pineda) were big for us."

THE PRESENT – AND FUTURE – OF CITY SECTION HOOPS

This game was not only one half of a West Valley League title match, barring any major upsets, but it was also a very possible City Section Open Division semifinals or finals preview. Additionally, the difference in getting first place and second place in the West Valley League could very well be the difference between the first seed versus the third or fourth in the playoffs, and the game seemed to have a slight playoff feel to it.

Additionally, it's no secret that these teams' outstanding 2024 cores have them well-positioned to contend for league and City championships for not just this season, but the next two after that as well. And this game served as a reminder.

Granada SG/PG Marianne Boco has broken out as one of the top sophomore guards in SoCal this season for the Highlanders, and she led the way with 23 points, five rebounds, and three steals. 2024 C Emma Perez, who averages a hair under 10 points and 10 rebounds a game in addition to 2.5 blocks, finished with 13 points and 12 boards. Two more non-seniors, F/Cs Krystal Pineda (2023 – three blocks, two charges taken, steal) and Karma Paez (2024 – two steals) made their presence felt defensively.

Honig mentioned that both the many abnormalities of the 2020-21 season and also a minor hip issue were the main reasons Boco didn't establish herself as a marquee player in the spring season, despite her level of ability. In that season, the team only played nine games, and Boco missed some early practices and two early games due to the hip, but Honig knew that she'd be ready to emerge as a star this season. And the versatile 5-6 combo guard certainly has.

Also, while she doesn't fit the underclassmen theme, senior PG and captain Calista Arzaga was one of the catalysts of Granada's comeback. She scored 12 points to go with four rebounds, three assists, and two steals, and her ability to push the ball in transition and overall energy both helped set the tone in the second. Nearly all the points came in the second half driving to the rim for Arzaga, who came in averaging a career-high 9.6 PPG to go with 4.4 APG.

"If you had told me before the season where we'd be at this point in the season, especially based on how we were playing in the summer and things like that, I would've never believed it," said Honig.

"They work hard, they come ready to practice everyday, and that's what it takes. They're a special group. I'm lucky."

For Birmingham, senior Janna Holley carries a heavy load in scoring and overall playmaking, and is also one of the premier defensive guards in the section. She had 15 points in addition to a small handful of nice dimes to lead the Patriots, who also get strong rotation minutes in the back-court from Cate Soonthonthum and Mia Calderon. But otherwise, they too get most of their production from underclassmen, between breakout F Dee Dee Berry, F Ayja Washington, W Sriaya Peters – all of whom are sophomores – and freshman C Liliana Martinez. And that doesn't include another sophomore, Natalie Lopez, a point guard who transferred from Alemany, who was only in her fifth game at Birmingham but is a very promising player. Nor does it include the potential offensive focal point of the group, 2024 SG Sammie Velasquez, who averaged over 10 PPG as a freshman last season and is expected to return at full-strength from a lower body injury before next season starts.

While they have a lot of developing to do and a lot of key games left to go in this season alone, these young cores are poised to carry the torch for City Section hoops for a few years to come – perhaps as the next big rivalry. Not only are they already playing at high levels now, but each one of those aforementioned players, who aren't halfway done with high school basketball, has substantial individual upside (which warrants a deeper dive another day). And both teams' young cores are well-balanced across positions, sizes, and roles.

"I don't think I've thought [about 2024], but we are very happy with our underclassmen... our good sophomore core, our big who is a freshman," said Birmingham head coach Victor Koopongsakorn. "So we're looking to be competitive for here on out and keep Birmingham up there, and... keep the word out there that we're here in the West Valley doing work."

"They're one of the main competitors in our area and in the City Section, and I see their roster and the [sophomores and freshman]... it'll be fun these next few matchups," said Honig on Birmingham.

BIRMINGHAM IMPRESSES DESPITE LOSS

After they led for essentially the whole game, this loss was about as heartbreaking as it gets for a regular season game for the Patriots. However, while the fact that they had many chances to win only makes the loss hurt more, it should serve as a reminder of what they're capable of.

"At least they can see now that we can get it done for a half, maybe three quarters," said Coach Koop after the game. "But it's going to take a whole game. To compete in the playoffs, we're going to have to compete for all four quarters. We can't just have a great three quarters."

This didn't have to be a year of being a legitimate championship threat for the Patriots, with last year's great senior class gone and key wings Sammie Velasquez and Aliah Medina out for the season with injuries. Even with another strong senior class still around led by Holley, successfully reloading on the fly with so many inexperienced players in key roles was far from a given. But if Birmingham can play full games at the level it did in the first three quarters, it could really compete for an Open Division title. The fourth quarter was rough and this will be a particularly tough loss to swallow, but they'll have numerous opportunities in the next few weeks to make up for it. If they win out in league play, they'll split the WVL title.

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