The Sailors had the size, but the Eagles had the seniors.
And that’s why the Templeton High girls basketball team is headed to the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs.
Marissa Torres scored 27 points, Mari Stewart had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Megan Hattar scored 10 second-half points as the Eagles turned a three-point fourth-quarter lead into a 67-53 victory over visiting Marymount on Thursday.
“They are a really good team, and they came to battle,” Torres said. “But we have a lot of experience from past years, and that makes a big difference.”
Templeton (23-2) forced at least four turnovers in each quarter against the Sailors (10-12), who started four sophomores and a junior against five battle-tested veterans. The Eagles’ seniors scored all of Templeton’s points, led by Torres, who hit a pair of 3-pointers in addition to numerous driving layups and post-up buckets.
Torres might stand just 5-foot-5, “maybe 5-foot-6,” coach Shawn Koehler said. “But she plays like she’s 6-3.”
In the big moments, it showed.
With her team’s lead cut to three, Torres had eight points in the fourth quarter to go along with relentless perimeter defense. She had a steal and pull-up 3-pointer in transition to extend the Eagles’ advantage to nine, 49-40, and helped navigate a Marymount press that gave Templeton fits in the middle quarters.
“I just try to play big and be strong,” Torres said. “We know that every game is going to be a battle, so we just have to go out and fight for what we want.”
What the Sailors might have lacked in experience, they made up for it by having the two tallest players on the court in 6-foot-3 Michaela Keefe and 6-2 Caitlin Keefe, who combined to pull down 31 of Marymount’s 34 rebounds.
“We knew they would be big inside. We were afraid of that,” said Koehler, whose team grabbed 31 boards. “We hadn’t had to play really big teams this year.
“First half, we didn’t box out at all … but we started to pressure the ball more, and the girls did a much better job in the second half.”
Templeton gave itself some breathing room midway through the third quarter, after Torres posted up for two buckets and fed a cutting Stewart for an easy layup to make the score 37-26.
But it didn’t last long as the Sailors ended the frame on a 9-1 run, forcing seven Templeton turnovers to make it a one-possession game heading into the fourth.
“They ran the press we run, and they did a really good job collapsing in the middle,” Koehler said. “We were forcing the ball in the middle too much.
“But the seniors make a big difference. They weren’t freaking out when we were only up by three.”
Instead, they went to work.
In addition to Torres, Stewart had 10 in the fourth, including a 6-for-6 effort from the free-throw line, and Hattar capped off her eight-point quarter with a 3-point play that put the game out of reach, 60-48, with 3:11 to play.
Autumn Russell finished with 10 rebounds and three points, Paige O’Sullivan had seven blocks, five assists and three points, and Briana Belmonte hit a baseline jumper to round out the senior scorers.
“Having the experience of going through CIF every year really does make a difference,” Hattar said. “I was a sophomore playing in CIF, but now you don’t have all those nerves.”
Hattar, who entered the year as a starting guard, missed the first half of the season with a hand injury and has worked her way back into the rotation.
Koehler kept her in for the majority of the second half Thursday, and the senior responded by making two field goals and six of her seven foul shots.
“Just not being able to play was a big struggle this year,” Hattar said. “But I’m ready to go now. This is my senior year. This is the last chance to show everyone what we worked so hard for.”
The Eagles, champions of the Los Padres League and winners of 15 straight, will travel to either fifth-seeded Whitney or Louisville on Saturday night.
“This is just the first step of five,” Torres said. “This is just the first step.”