By Austin Green
Days after blowing a late double-digit lead to La Canada Flintridge Prep in their season opener, the Burbank High School girls’ basketball team survived a scare of déjà vu and hung on to beat Fairfax Shalhevet on Wednesday, 59-54.
Burbank dominated the first three quarters thanks to some stifling defense. The Bulldogs took an early lead after five quick Shalhevet turnovers and some early buckets from Burbank guards and team captains Kimberly Pimentel and Christina Ohanians.
On the other side of the court, the Firehawks made just eight of 28 field goal attempts in the first half. Head coach Jett Del Mundo opted for a smaller starting lineup and was pleased with the result on the defensive end early on.
“I went with five guards that wanted to play that were gonna come out and talk the entire time and it was working very well,” Del Mundo said. “There was just a point there where I think they got a little tired and one of them came over to me and said, ‘Coach, can we get a post player in the game?’ and I decided to go with that.”
That move paid off, as well. When Del Mundo inserted center Tabitha Cruz late in the first quarter, she provided a much-needed spark to the offense by making her first four shot attempts down low. Cruz finished with 12 points on an efficient six for 10 from the field. All her shots came inside the paint, and she recorded a double-double with over 10 rebounds.
“The guards took care of her,” Del Mundo said. “If you put the ball in a positive situation where she can just catch and shoot it, she’s gonna have a great game because the guards get her the ball at the right times in the right places. I know that sounds simplistic but if your post player catches it in a good spot, good things will happen.”
The Bulldogs limited the Firehawks to single-digit scoring in the first and third quarters and led 43-30 heading into the fourth. But Shalhevet’s press defense disrupted Burbank’s offensive rhythm and some aggressive playmaking from Yalee Schwartz helped her team climb back into the game. Schwartz finished with a game-high 19 points and set up teammates Hilla Lasry and Talia Tizabi for some key three-pointers down the stretch, helping narrow Burbank’s lead to as little as two at one point.
Burbank made only two shots from the field in the fourth quarter but were able to do just enough to put the game out of reach thanks to Pimentel’s on-court leadership and a dagger three-pointer from Ohanians.
“Kim is the one that settles into our offense, sets it up, sets the table for the other players. That’s her role… she’s really grown into a very good basketball player,” Del Mundo said. ”And then Christina is our one that can set it up but she can also drive and penetrate. So they balance each other out.
“They were both on the team last year, but they didn’t play like that. They’re finding themselves now. They’re more comfortable as basketball players.”
Early in the fourth quarter, with Burbank’s offense struggling to get a foothold, Pimentel approached her coach during a timeout and gave him a message.
“She goes, ‘Get me the ball. They can’t stop me,’” Del Mundo said. “This is a girl that would never have said that a year ago. Definitely a big growth in the last year for her.”
Pimentel’s ability to break the press allowed her teammates to maintain pressure on offense, forcing Shalhevet into foul trouble. The Bulldogs converted 10 of 13 shots from the free throw line, including eight from guard Allie Tarvidiri, to help slam the door the Firehawks’ comeback bid.
Tarvidiri finished as Burbank’s leading scorer in the game, going 3 got 12 from the field and also 8 for 10 on free-throw attempts. Emily Megerdichian had 12 points, Ohanians had 11 points, Erika Montoya had five points and Pimentel had four points.
The Bulldogs were 1-1 as they headed into Pacific League play at Glendale on Friday. Del Mundo is proud that his team was able to fight through adversity survive Shalhevet’s comeback but knows the Bulldogs need to do more to close out games going forward.
“We have to learn how to win,” Del Mundo said. “And we have to understand that it’s a team game that got you the lead, it’s not gonna be individual game that’s gonna win it for you. Certain players took individual shots, they weren’t running the offense, and the same thing happened last game [against Flintridge Prep]. They have to learn from it.”