By Jeremy Balan
It’s hard to believe that any basketball team can overcome missing its first 15 shots from the floor, but that’s exactly what Burton High School’s girls team did in a 38-30 non-league win over visiting Leadership on Saturday.
The Pumas (1-1) only scored two points in the first quarter and trailed 14-6 midway through the second, but capitalized on 35 Leadership turnovers to tie the game 14-14 at the half and pull away in the second half. After a free throw from Burton’s Alyssa De la Cruz gave the Pumas a 15-14 edge early in the third, they did not relinquish the lead again.
“They just woke up,” said Burton head coach Brian Jackson. “We weren’t relaxing and were too anxious. We have a lot of growing pains to go through.”
The turning point came late in the second quarter, when Burton sophomore forward Amber Opetaia scored her first three baskets of the game on fastbreak layups off steals. Opetaia would go on to score a game-high 14 points coming off the bench, to go along with several steals and a dominant performance on the offensive boards.
“She’s a spark plug,” Jackson said of Opetaia. “She’s very tenacious on defense and she works hard. For her, it’s a matter of relaxing in the game just like everybody else.”
While Opetaia led the Burton offense, it was fellow sophomore Dana Arzadon who led the high-pressure Pumas defense, converting several steals into fastbreak opportunities. Arzadon would finish with 10 points.
Both teams featured young starting lineups, but it was Leadership that struggled down the stretch. Along with the turnovers, the Griffins shot just 4-of-22 from the floor in the second half.
“Our team is mainly made up of freshmen and sophomores playing at the varsity level,” said Leadership coach Robert Gallot. “When game-time situations occur, our youth is going to show. These girls need to learn how to persevere, and once adversity occurs, to keep on playing hard.”
No Leadership player finished in double-digits in scoring, but sophomore captain Iza Rodriquez carried most of the load late, with her team-high nine points coming exclusively in the second half.
“A lot of things are on her shoulders,” Rodriguez said. “She’s going to have to learn to play with a little bit more control, but once again, it’s that youth. With more game experience, we’re going to get over that.”
Both teams will continue non-league play on Tuesday, when Leadership will host Drew, while Burton will travel to Immaculate Conception.