Until Thursday night, Cleresa Roberts and Allie Dixon were ordinary sophomores hoping to contribute to their team's success but not responsible for much more than being role players or supportive teammates.
"This is just my first year on varsity," said Roberts after she made several key offensive and defensive plays that helped the Judge Bulldogs edge Juan Diego in overtime 45-44. "I got frustrated at times; it's a lot to hold on your shoulders, but you just have to play through it."
She got frustrated with herself for making a few mistakes, but she didn't have time to worry about how they might affect the outcome of the very close contest because she busied herself making sure the Bulldogs earned a win. Roberts and Dixon led the Bulldogs in a win where their starting post player, Dani Griffin, was on the bench much of the game because of foul trouble. She left the game for good when she was called for her fifth foul with 3:28 left in the fourth quarter.
"We've had a hard time taking advantage of opportunities so far, but tonight we did that," said Judge coach Jeremy Chatterton. "It's huge (the win) . . . Hopefully we can take this and build on it."
Chatterton acknowledge that with two of his five starters on the bench during crunch time, the play of his younger, more inexperienced players made all the difference in the outcome.
"I was telling the girls before the game that this type of game is why you decide to play sports as a kid," he said, smiling. "We took the opportunity before the game to just enjoy the moment."
It was a moment made sweeter by the fact that Judge edged its rival, Juan Diego, during a pre-season that's been filled with more losing than the Bulldogs are used to coping with. Thursday's win brings them to 4-6 as they prepare to take on 5A's Cottonwood next week.
Dixon had played post on and off as coaches tried to keep Griffin out of foul trouble and turned out to be the night's leading scorer with nine points. She also came up with some big rebounds down the stretch and hit two free throws that gave the Bulldogs the lead with two minutes left in regulation. Then she hit a jumper that put them up by three with about a minute left, but Juan Diego's Jessica Smith hit a three-point shot to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Both Dixon and Roberts say the win will help them with momentum as they begin region play.
"It feels great," Roberts said of the win. "It's a great way to start the season."
Juan Diego's Smith had a strong night, leading all scorers with 17 points, while teammate Lindsay Padjen added 11 points. Both Juan Diego post players, Sarah Lindmar and Whitney Spooner, sat much of the game with foul trouble. Both coaches said they expected nothing less than a nail-biter Thursday."The Judge game is always tight," said Soaring Eagle coach Bob Lyons. "I've scheduled as tough a pre-season as I could schedule . . . This is just the pre-season. It's not what your focus is all about. There were tears in the locker room tonight, but these are learning experiences. We had our chances to win, and we didn't take advantage of them. Some of those situations will probably come up again Feb. 23 or 24, and hopefully we'll remember these lessons."