LCC rally falls short as Mission Hills prevails in Avo West girls basketball opener

LCC senior Hannah Etheridge challenges Olivia Keltner of Mission Hills.
(Ken Grosse)

La Costa Canyon scored five points in the final 18 seconds but came up one short as visiting Mission Hills pulled out a 51-50 decision in the Avocado West League girls’ basketball opener for both schools Tuesday night, Jan. 14. The triumph elevates Mission Hills to 10-6 overall while La Costa Canyon falls to 12-5.

Mission Hills, which went undefeated while capturing last year’s Avo West crown and ultimately finished as runner-up in the CIF Open Division tournament, led virtually wire-to-wire in this one but was never able to completely shake the Mavericks. The Grizzlies opened up an eight-point advantage several times in the first half and had their biggest lead of the night in the third quarter at 11. They were up 42-35 heading into the fourth quarter but had to survive the crazy final moments to depart with the W.

LCC had drawn to within three and called a timeout with seven seconds remaining. Second-year Head Coach Caitlin Hoffmann drew up a play for a three-point shot but when it wasn’t available things got chaotic and the Mavs settled for an uncontested lay-up, leaving them agonizingly on the doorstep. Mission Hills Head Coach Chris Kroesch, who won his 59th consecutive league game (MH was a member of the Avocado East League prior to last season) and 75th-in-a-row against North County Conference schools, was just glad to be walking out of the gym with a victory.

“They’re tough at home, they have a lot of veterans and this was our first true road game of the season,” said Kroesch. “I thought we were in control most of the game but we were very inconsistent—part of that you have to give credit to LCC, they played tough D.”

Mission Hills' Amber Schmidt powers to the hoop against LCC's Haley Dumiak.
(Ken Grosse)

Sophomores Amber Schmidt (12 points, 14 rebounds, 4 steals) and Kennan Ka (13 pts., 6 rebounds, 5 assists) were the cornerstones for Mission Hills. Point guard Kaitlin Quain and forward Hannah Etheridge, both seniors, were the scoring leaders for La Costa Canyon with 12 and 11 points respectively. Hoffman, whose team had suffered a baffling 37-pt. road loss to highly-ranked Bonita Vista three days earlier, was disappointed by the loss but hardly dissatisfied by her squad’s performance.

“It was a battle, both teams wanted to win so bad,” said Hoffman afterward. “We lost but it was a good loss.

“I liked our consistent ability to respond when we got down. We just kept trying to play harder and, defensively, I thought (senior) Haley Dumiak played one of the most physical games of her career—she showed a lot of tenacity.

“Looking back, I thought we handled their runs pretty well. I just wish we could have hit more shots and done a little better job of limiting their second and third chances.”

The breakneck pace of the game in the first half led Kroesch to dial back his trademark full-court pressure in the second 16 minutes and may have inadvertently helped the Mavs get their footing. “We had been scrambling but we settled down offensively in the fourth quarter,” said Hoffmann. “Our second half approach defensively was to concentrate on stopping their three-point shooters and not worry about them getting into the paint as much.” The strategy worked well as Mission Hills drained just two treys in the final two quarters and with Dumiak and Etheridge to protect inside the Grizzly drivers were not overly impactful.

Regardless the particulars, on this night Kroesch, who has four sophomores and a junior in his starting lineup, was satisfied with coming out on top.

“We made enough mistakes to let them stay close and had opportunities to push the lead up but didn’t take advantage,” assessed Kroesch. “For us it was a learning experience, a growing up moment for a lot of our girls and they were disappointed in the locker room—that’s good, it shows me they’re driven.

“In my opinion, these are the two best teams in the league. It was the first game and I’m sure there were things they want to do better, same with us. We’ll need to be better because LCC will be hungrier next time we meet (Jan. 31 at Mission Hills).”

Friday night (Jan.17), La Costa Canyon travels to Canyon Crest and Mission Hills will be two miles down the road at Torrey Pines.