Santa Barbara High guard Athena Saragoza glides in for a layup in a 72-49 victory over San Marcos. | Credit: Victor Bryant

Four years of hard work and dedication to the game of basketball came together in one spectacular performance for Santa Barbara High guard Athena Saragoza as she exploded for 40 points in a 72-49 victory over rival San Marcos on Thursday night.

Saragoza drained a three-pointer from the left wing with 2:24 remaining in the fourth quarter to reach her career-high 40 points and was immediately subbed out of the game to congratulations from her teammates and coaches.

“It was so much fun. All my teammates knew that I was close to getting 40 so they were trying to get me the ball,” Saragoza said. “We just played super unselfishly today. It was like the best game we played together just sharing the ball.” 

In a season like no other that barely came to fruition the athletes have learned to cherish every moment and for Saragoza to reach 40 points on her senior night is a milestone that the players and coaches involved will never forget.

“It’s so great for the seniors to have a season and to have a senior night with balloons and pageantry,” said Santa Barbara High coach Andrew Butcher. “We didn’t know at all if this would happen. They were talking about the games being held outdoors two months ago.”

The Dons have made the most of the opportunity to play and remain undefeated in Channel League play with a record of 8-0 heading into the final week of the regular season. Non-league losses to St. Joseph and Righetti have given Santa Barbara a sneak peak at their weaknesses that they hope to smoothe over ahead of the CIF-SS Division 2AA playoffs.

“If it was a normal 30-game season I think this could develop into a truly outstanding team. The mistakes we make are fixable. The defense is getting better, but there are holes and the rebounding we struggle with, but it is getting better every week,” Butcher said. “It’s just the situation we have, but they are doing a lot of great things and I’m really excited.”

Both teams shot well early in the game as Trujillo opened the scoring with a deep three-pointer on Santa Barbara’s opening possession. On the flip side, Oceanna Bauer caught fire for San Marcos in the first quarter with a three-pointer and three tough finishes at the rim on her way to nine points in the period to keep the Royals close.  

A baseline jumper by Natasha Stapf that narrowly beat the buzzer cut the San Marcos deficit to 20-13 at the end of the opening stanza.

San Marcos has no seniors on its roster and the lack of experience became evident over the course of the game as turnover piled up and intensity waned. The Dons took a 38-25 lead into the locker room at halftime and outscored San Marcos 17-7 in the third quarter to break open the game.

“I think they were just in their heads too much mentally, overthinking what they needed to do instead of just doing what they know how to do,” said first-year San Marcos head coach Tiffany Simms. 

San Marcos fell to 5-3 in League play with the loss, but has an excellent opportunity to advance to the postseason if it can finish strong next week. Bauer finished with a team-high 14 points. Michelle Arellanes and Stapf contributed nine and eight points respectively.

Santa Barbara honored two more seniors in addition to Saragoza on Thursday night,  Briana Trujillo and Isabelle Goebel, who finished with six and four points respectively. Caia Trimble did an excellent job sharing the ball on her way to nine points and nine assists. Jaeda Spence scored 10 points, including two three-pointers. 

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