It was an impressive opening weekend for what second-year head coach Rene Herrera hopes will be a special season for the Rio Hondo College women's basketball team.
The Roadrunners began the 2018-19 season by winning three straight games at the Mt. San Antonio College Tip-Off Classic, including a narrow 55-54 victory over No. 1-ranked Mt. SAC in Sunday's championship final.
"We had a game plan and the girls executed it just well enough to pull away with the win," said Herrera. "Mt. SAC is a tough team to beat at home but our coaching staff did a great job reminding our girls to stay in the moment and play the game one possession at a time. We had multiple players step up by knocking down big shots late in the game. It was a great team win. I am happy for our school, program, and especially the girls who have worked their butts off for opportunities like these."
It took a complete effort to pull off the upset of the Mounties on their home court. Rio Hondo held a narrow one-point lead after the first quarter but went cold in the second. Mt. SAC opened the period with an 8-0 run and outscored the Roadrunners 15-5 in the second to take a commanding 35-26 advantage into halftime.
Rio Hondo chipped away at that lead in the third. Christina Hilton scored 8 of her game-high 19 points in the period and the Roadrunners doubled up Mt. SAC by a 14-7 margin to cut the Mounties' lead to just two points (42-40) heading into the fourth.
Neither team was able to pull away in the final period. With Rio Hondo trailing 52-49, Hilton nailed a clutch three-pointer at the 2:13 mark to tie up the game. The game remained knotted up at 52 all the way until the final minute.
With just 38 seconds to play, Rio Hondo's Kailey Gutierrez cut through the lane for a layup off the assist from Hilton for what proved to be the game-winner. She was fouled on the play and converted the free throw to put the Roadrunners up 55-52.
Mt. SAC's Lauryn Manns sank a pair of free throws to get the Mounties within one point with just 29 seconds left. A Rio Hondo turnover gave the Mt. SAC the ball back for one final possession. The Mounties missed a pair of shots just before the final buzzer and the Roadrunners held on for the tremendous victory.
Hilton had a huge game in the finale. She made 8 of 13 shots on her way to 19 points and totaled 8 rebounds, 4 steals, and a pair of blocks. Gutierrez scored 11 points and dished out 4 assists to go with 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Amanda Lee chipped in with 8 points and posted 4 steals.
Following the championship win, Lee was named the tournament most valuable player while Hilton earned all-tournament honors.
"This win was big for our team because Mt. SAC is a great program," said Herrera. "We know it's early in the season and we have a long road ahead of us. Both teams are from the same conference and we know they will be ready for us next time we play. We will celebrate tonight and go back to the drawing board tomorrow and prepare for our next opponent."
Rio Hondo opened the tourney as well as its season on Friday with a 72-66 win over West Los Angeles College. The Roadrunners trailed 37-32 at halftime but rallied late for the victory. A 9-1 run over the final minutes of the fourth quarter sealed the win for the Roadrunners.
Lee had a monster game in her Rio Hondo debut, leading all with 25 points and 6 assists. Gutierrez posted 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists while Hilton and Amy Navarro both added 10 points and 6 rebounds.
Rio Hondo reached the tournament championship thanks to a 60-53 win over Citrus College in Saturday's semifinals.
Citrus scored the game's opening bucket before Gutierrez nailed a three-pointer to put Rio Hondo out in front and the Roadrunners held on to the lead for the rest of the contest.
Gutierrez led the Roadrunners with 12 points and 5 assists while Hilton (9 points, 9 rebounds) and Lee (8 points, 7 rebounds) both came close to double-doubles.
"We played tough competition all weekend," said Herrera. "Being a young team, players had to learn and make adjustment on the fly. Our first two games, we manage to play well enough to beat two tough teams in West LA and Citrus. Our team this year is deep and on any given day multiple players can step up. Our post played big in controlling the paint and rebounding during the first two games. Our guards were consistent with making good reads by setting up teammate to score and knocking down jump shots."
Rio Hondo will look to keep the momentum going when the Roadrunners return to action on Friday (Nov. 9). They will face Moorpark College at 5 p.m. in an opening-round game of the 5th annual E.O.S. Tournament at Riverside City College.