Murrieta Valley's Ariana Hernandez looks to go to the basket in front of Westchester's Taylor Jackson during second half action in the first round of the state girls basketball playoff game.
MURRIETA On Saturday afternoon, a confident Murrieta Valley girls basketball team will travel to Bakersfield to continue its state playoff quest.
The Nighthawks are in unchartered territory—and they couldn’t be more excited.
"The postseason started, and we just came together," said Murrieta Valley coach Scott Richards. "We clicked at the right time, and we’re now peaking."
The Nighthawks won their eighth consecutive game, overwhelming visiting Los Angeles Westchester, 71-48, Wednesday night in the first round of the CIF Southern California regional basketball playoffs.
Murrieta Valley (27-5), fresh off of a 49-37 victory over Culver City last Friday for its first Southern Section title, won its first state playoff game Wednesday.
The No. 8-seeded Nighthawks will likely get their stiffest test when they face top-seeded Bakersfield Ridgeview on Saturday.
They handled Westchester will relative ease.
"The energy wasn’t there," said Comets coach W Marcel Sanders. "The girls weren’t playing up to their capabilities. I guess they’d rather me scream at them to get them to do what they need to do."
The Comets (27-9) pressed full court after both made and missed baskets. But the Nighthawks remained patient, and advanced the ball with accurate passes to open teammates beyond half court.
"We weren’t putting enough pressure on their guards," said Westchester junior guard Ahteana Jones, who scored 15 points. "I guess the people up top weren’t doing their job."
Once they broke the pressure, the Nighthawks took advantage of many two-on-one opportunities.
"You have to pass to beat a zone press," said Richards. "You can dribble through a man press, but you’ve got to pass during a zone press."
"Our players just know where they are on the court. It’s just great team chemistry."
In almost every fastbreak chance, one teammate unselfishly passed to another for an open shot near the rim.
"We really like to play fast," said Nighthawk senior forward Aliah Marshall, who scored a game-high 22 points. "Especially when we see that one of our teammates is open. We just make sure it’s a good pass, and we finish."
The Nighthawks got plenty of good shots, and they put many of them away. Murrieta Valley made 24 of 48 field goal attempts, and 18 of 22 free throws.
"We knew they were going to pressure our guards," said Murrieta Valley sophomore point guard Ariana Hernandez, who scored seven points. "We knew if we tried to dribble through their pressure, we’d get trapped. We knew what to do, and we executed it well tonight."
The Nighthawks, who led 38-18 at the half, put the game away by outscoring the Comets, 15-6 in the third quarter.
Many players made positive contributions for Murrieta Valley. Six scored at least six points.
Senior forward Karen Wolf scored 15 points for Murrieta Valley, and Deshea Wilkes added 13.