For the second time in a week Raymond S. Kellis met Peoria, and the results remained the same.
In last week's Moon Valley Thanksgiving Invitational, the Cougar girls basketball squad used a 20-12 fourth quarter for a 65-59 win.
Tuesday played out with a similar scenario. Kellis, down by six heading into the fourth, found open looks underneath for senior Samantha McEntire and junior Tiffany Ortega hit a pair of three-pointers to finish a 27-15 fourth quarter on its way to a 66-60 win against the Panthers to open the regular season.
"Kellis is a great team," said Peoria Coach Leslie Saulsby. "We were out-played and out-hussled. But Kellis is a good team and I would be disappointed if they didn't go deep into the 4A-II state tournament. They have my full support and I want to see them do well, just not against us."
The Cougars ability to drive the lane and hit short jumpers, as well as fighting for every loose ball, gave the Glendale squad a 31-22 halftime edge.
Ortega opened the third with a mid-range jumper to push the lead to 11, however, momentum shifted on the next posession to the Panthers. McEntire was called for two fouls in the matter of seconds. The first sent Patricia Ramos to the line, who hit the front end of a two-shot foul. The Panthers came down with the offensive rebound on the second free throw attempt and after the inbounds play off the McEntire foul, Peoria worked the ball to Cecilia Pearl in the post who laid the ball in to cut the Kellis lead to 33-25.
That 3-point play sparked a 11-1 run with Ramos driving the lane for lay up that put the Panthers within one at 34-33.
Peoria, whose only lead was 4-2, would reclaim control of the game late in the third when Jazmin Quinones stole the ball, drove the length of the court, and found an opening along the left side for a lay up, making it a 39-37 game. That shot was part of a 12-0 run to finish off the third quarter for the Panthers. Unfortunately, that's when they peaked.
"We made a run, but we couldn't stop their run," Saulsby said. "In the end, it came down to the fourth quarter."
Ortega would pull up for a quick 3-point shot to open the fourth, followed by McEntire hitting both free throw attempts after a Peoria foul. Junior Kayla MacKenzie then drove right, hitting a lay up that gave Kellis the lead again at 46-45. The Panthers were then called for a charge and the Cougars capitalized with Ortega hitting her second straight 3-point attempt to cap a 10-0 run.
The Cougars would not trail for the rest of the contest.
While Saulsby said there are a lot of new individual pieces to this team, he sees a lot of talent on the court which should help them later in the season.
"It's just a matter of gelling as a team," Saulsby said. "We're probably more talented than Kellis, but they play better team ball. We have some new parts, but we should be better once we start playing together. I'll say this, I wouldn't want to play us in January."
The Peoria coach was quick to point out that the team lost it's 6-foot, 4-inch anchor Ninna Bungard, and senior All-American point guard Alannah Begay. However, he said that wasn't an excuse for tonight's loss.
"We have to learn how to toughen up and step up," Saulsby said. "That's what it comes down to. If we can do that we'll be the best team in Division 4A-I. All I can say is we're going to get better and we won't be playing with just half our cylinders. It will happen sooner than later."