The Rio Hondo Lady Bobcats’ historic season came to an end Saturday after losing to Somerset 54-38 in the area round of the Class 4A playoffs at San Diego.
Rio Hondo finishes the season with a 16-1 overall record. The Lady Bobcats were a perfect 15-0 through the regular season, picking up a District 32-4A championship and their first playoff win since 2014. They battled pound for pound against the bigger Lady Bulldogs during the first half, but the shooting went cold in the second as Somerset ramped up the defensive pressure.
Lady Bobcats coach Victor Sauceda called the season exciting and liked the way his girls fought despite being shorthanded and undersized in the contest.
“I was proud of the way they came out and fought and did their best,” Sauceda said. “I told them coming in that our defense was going to give us an opportunity to stay with them, it just depended on if we could hit our shots. Obviously, in the first half we did and that’s what kept us in it. But in the second half we got cold, and when you can’t stop the other team and you can’t score it’s going to show on the scoreboard.”
Somerset went up 11-3 early, but Rio Hondo’s 3-point shooting cut the lead to 11-9 after the opening quarter. In the second, senior Natalie Martinez led Rio Hondo’s solid defensive effort to slow down the Lady Bulldogs. The Lady Bobcats knocked down five 3-pointers during the second quarter and scored all 24 of their first-half points off the deep shot.
Martinez hit three from behind the arc, and so did junior Alexis Rhyner. Sophomore Eliza Rodriguez added two to the barrage of 3s that fired up Rio Hondo and its crowd, and put the Lady Bobcats on top 24-23 at halftime.
“When you hit some shots, the energy goes up. That was big for us in the first half, and you could tell. In the second half, when you’re not hitting, the energy goes down and it affects both sides of the court. It was a tale of two halves, and we just couldn’t get it done in the second half,” Sauceda said.
The opening half of the third quarter was a low scoring affair as the team’s swapped buckets. But Somerset closed the frame with a 13-0 run off the play of Tse Morgan and Kendall Dominguez. Somerset made an adjustment into a zone defense during the second half that kept the Lady Bobcats from finding lanes to the basket, resulting in Rio Hondo throwing up mid- and long-range shots that didn’t fall. The Lady Bulldogs held a 40-27 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
Somerset fed the ball inside and scored on transition layups after good stops by its defense to open things up in the fourth. The Lady Bobcats kept fighting and putting up shots, but they often fell short. Rio Hondo’s big three of Martinez, Rodriguez and Rhyner continued to push as the game went on, but the Lady Bobcats got into foul trouble that allowed Somerset to run out the clock and seal the win.
Abby Torris got the start due to Rio Hondo being down two bigs and played well down low as she battled against Somerset’s size. Torris and Mia Zuniga contributed solid effort defensively and to help Rio Hondo’s rebounding.
Rio Hondo will be returning a lot of key players next year, and Sauceda hopes the impressive run the Lady Bobcats made this year will keep the young girls inspired to work hard.
“I called a timeout in the fourth quarter when we were down by 15 already, and I told them I wanted them to compete until the end,” Sauceda said. “That’s the kind of attitude and style of basketball we want to play. We just never quit, and I was proud of that. I told them not to put their heads down, and I told the returners to use this as motivation for next year to do better.”