Vanguard’s Paige Halberg scored the go-ahead basket with just over eight minutes remaining and directed the 10th-ranked Lions past The Master’s College 62-49 Saturday evening in Bross Gym.
The loss was the Mustangs’ third in a row and kept them tied with Hope International in last place in the GSAC (1-5, 8-10 overall). Meanwhile, the Lions improved to 5-1 in conference play, remaining one game behind front-running Westmont.
Halberg’s layup with 8:17 left put her club ahead to stay and just over four minutes later another layup by the senior guard finished off a 13-2 blitz as the Lions pulled away for the win. When Halberg wasn’t scoring, she was leading the Lion offense with precision, distributing four assists during the decisive run.
Two of those assists went to Esther Timmermans who dominated the paint all night long to the tune of 17 points and 12 points. Halberg complemented her with 12 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds.
Until Halberg and her companions raced away in the final eight minutes, the Mustangs had a legitimate shot at an upset, fighting their way back most of the evening and matching the Lions point-for-point during a seven-minute stretch.
Down 31-27 at halftime, the Mustangs used an 11-5 spurt to start the second half, claiming their first lead (38-36) since early in the game. Sophomore wing Zoe Scott sparked the run with six straight points while a Whitney Best jumper with 14:09 remaining put the Mustangs in front for the first time since the 12:32 mark of the first half.
During the next six minutes the clubs went back forth, exchanging the lead four times and producing a pair of ties before Halberg took over down the stretch. The final Mustang advantage of the evening came with nine minutes left when Best’s jumper gave her team a 45-44 lead.
If the opening minutes of play were any indication, the Mustangs should have never been in a position to go back and forth with the Lions. The visitors, fueled by four points from Timmermans, raced to a 9-2 lead, evoking thoughts of a runaway.
But Lena Rivera wouldn’t allow that to happen. The junior guard, who battled valiantly all evening, ignited a 10-0 burst with six consecutive points and when sophomore Lindsey Levanen capped it off with a jumper and a layup, the Mustangs had surged in front 12-9.
That advantage lasted all of 30 seconds, though, as a Timmermans’ layup, following an Allison Burns’ layup, vaulted the Lions back in front where they stayed the rest of the half. Those four points were part of a 6-0 spurt that the Lions duplicated a few minutes later, expanding a 17-15 lead to an eight-point margin (23-15) in a 30-second window. Alison Drennan sparked the run with a three-pointer, Timmermans added a layup and Halberg wrapped it with a free throw.
However, the Mustangs refused to wilt, ripping off a 6-0 run of their own while keeping the Lions scoreless for nearly four minutes. When Scott drained a three-pointer with 7:18 left in the half, the Mustangs had sliced the deficit to 23-21.
But, the 6-0 pattern continued and this time it was the Lions’ turn as they turned a two-point edge into an eight-point (29-21) cushion in a matter of 90 seconds. The Mustangs, behind two Lena Rivera free throws and a Levanen layup, managed to carve the deficit in half before halftime and went to the break down by four.
Played her heart out, Lena Rivera finished as the Mustangs’ only double-figure scorer with 14 points and notched her third double-double of the season with a career-high tying 12 rebounds. Scott had nine points while Levanen tossed in seven more and grabbed five rebounds.
With GSAC-leading Westmont on the horizon Tuesday evening in Santa Barbara, it doesn’t get any easier for a Mustang squad attempting to get back in the conference race.
Around the GSAC on January 14
Fresno Pacific 75, San Diego Christian (H) 73*
Westmont (H) 78, Hope International 50*
Vanguard 62, The Masters (H) 49*
Azusa Pacific (H) 81, Concordia 63*
Point Loma Nazarene (H) 54, Biola 31*