Coach Bryan Hutchens found the perfect remedy for the Arroyo Grande High girls basketball team’s slumberous start at home Wednesday against Atascadero: Viper.
The foreboding phrase is what he calls the Eagles’ full-court press, and the relentless pursuit of the ball got his squad running to an eventual 53-36 victory to remain unbeaten in PAC 8 play.
“We were a little sluggish, so I think we needed to get out of playing traditional D,” Hutchens said. “It was in action a long time tonight, and it worked.
“I think the press kind of brought the momentum to us, and we were able to stretch it out in that second quarter.”
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Standout junior Ashlyn Herlihy finished right around her season average with a game-high 23 points for Arroyo Grande (15-2, 6-0), which has won 11 straight.
“When coach told us to go to our press, it brought up the energy,” Herlihy said. “We’ve got to have that from the start, though, because in CIF, that will really hurt us.”
Sabrina Degnan had 11 points, and fellow senior Maddie Leong finished with 10 for the Greyhounds (7-8, 1-5), who got out to a 6-0 lead but scored just five more in the rest of the first half.
“We made a couple bad mistakes, but once we settled down, we should have converted,” Atascadero coach Jim Stecher said. “Basically we’re two sophomores and a freshman on the floor with two seniors, so it’ll take a while, but they’re coming. We just can’t wait too long.”
While Viper kept Atascadero scrambling on the offensive end, Herlihy continued to rack up buckets for the Eagles. The 6-foot-1 junior who’s being recruited by Big West and West Coast Conference programs showed a strong inside-out game, flashing quick footwork down low and hitting a stepback 3-pointer to put Arroyo Grande ahead 25-10 just before halftime.
“This offseason, my goal was to be able to play the perimeter,” said Herlihy, who figures to play the stretch-four power forward role at the next level. “Our coach is generous enough to let me play there, because in our league, nobody is relatively as tall as me.”
Sophomore Brynn Thoming added eight points for the Eagles, as the 5-foot-10 sophomore continues to flourish in her first year as the team’s primary ballhandler.
“One of the great things that Brynn is doing for us is when she comes across half court, she sees the low block,” Hutchens said. “She’s a little taller than most point guards, so she can see over the defenders, and that vision puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
That’s allowed seniors Olivia Galindo and Jennifer Johnson to work more off the ball, and both hit a 3 on Wednesday.
“Last year, we lacked that senior motivation, but this year we have it,” Herlihy said. “We have a lot of girls motivating each other on and off the court.”
Arroyo Grande came into the game allowing an average of just 29 points per game in league contests compared to 49.2 points scored.
So although it was his team’s worst defeat thus far in PAC 8 play, Stecher came away from Wednesday’s contest optimistic about his team’s postseason chances.
“We lost this one by 17, but all the others have been by five,” he said. “We’re still in the hunt.” For the Eagles, the message remains simple whether running Viper or not — keep the pedal to the floor.
“Our goal was never to win league or go undefeated,” Herlihy said. “It’s to come out every game, play as hard as you can and see if the results end in our favor.”