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LCC girls host Mission Hills in Avocado West hoops battle Friday

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La Costa Canyon senior guard Carolina Sanchez.
Ken Grosse

Make no mistake about it. Even though the Avocado West Girls’ Basketball season just reached its midway point Wednesday, Friday’s clash between Mission Hills and La Costa Canyon will be a de facto championship game.

Heading into the contest, Avo West newcomer Mission Hills owns the top spot with a 5-0 mark (12-10 overall) while second place LCC comes in 4-1 (12-9 overall). Given the results of the first half, the probability is low than any other team besides La Costa Canyon has the muscle to take down Mission Hills.

The Mavericks, who will be hosting Friday, have won nine consecutive league titles. They lost to the Grizzlies, 61-42, on the road Jan. 9, but have won four in a row since and first-year Head Coach Caitlin Eichlin is certain her team can improve on that initial showing.

“We were prepared for most of what we saw that night but we weren’t prepared for their transition threes,” said Eichlin, whose team shot 29 percent and turned the ball over 25 times in the loss. “Most up-tempo teams are about getting the ball inside but Mission Hills is a different type of team. They have three-point shooters who are very consistent and they really hurt us there.

“I thought we played well once we slowed them down and got them in a half court offense. They’re an excellent team but we’re embracing the challenge.”

Alexis Machain
Two-time Avocado West MVP Alexis Machain. Ken Grosse

There can be no denying the fact that La Costa Canyon has stepped up its game since a four-game early season losing streak launched a 4-9 stretch. Better rebounding, which has helped improve the fast break, and a stingier defense (outside of the loss to Mission Hills, the Mavs are allowing less than 32 per game in league action) have been part of the team’s resurgence, but Eichlin says it’s an intangible that has played the biggest role.

“The main thing has been confidence,” Eichlin said. “As a team, I think we’ve come together and really started trusting each other. That shows up on the court.

“Our press is a good example. If one player goes for a steal or takes a chance like that, she knows the other four have her back. They’re not worried about making mistakes.”

Senior guard Carolina Sanchez agrees with her coach’s perspective. “Honestly, I think we’ve gotten so close and are so comfortable with each other that it translates to the way we play and has made us more effective,” said Sanchez.

Coach Chris Kroesch’s Grizzly crew toughened up with a brutal non-conference schedule against a largely non-San Diego cast of foes, many ranked statewide as well as nationally. His teams have won four CIF championships in the last five years and would have to be rated among the top half dozen “programs” in the section. They tuned up for the La Costa Canyon rematch with a 68-26 rout at Canyon Crest and in league play are scoring more points than any other team (15 points per game higher than the second best) and giving up the fewest. So, improvement or not, Eichlin and Company are facing a tough task.

LCC prepped for Mission Hills with a 51-31 home triumph over Carlsbad Wednesday. Aside from her club’s progress in the performance department, Eichlin is also hoping that history can play a part in turning around the 19-point deficit her team needs to erase from that first encounter.

“This game is something we’ve never taken our minds off since January 9,” says Eichlin. “It’s a pride thing—it’s our house, our league and we get a little defensive about wanting to get that 10th title.

“I think this team gets very motivated when nobody else believes in them—and I know nobody expects us to beat Mission Hills.”

Or, as Sanchez puts it, “This game and the league championship are super important, especially for Alexis (Machain) and me as seniors. LCC has won nine back-to-back and we want to carry on that tradition and bring another one home.”