Young Eagles growing up fast

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High freshman Jamie Baum goes up for a shot against Soledad Friday. She is one of 10 underclassmen on the team.

Less than a month into the season, the Los Altos High girls basketball team has accomplished something last year’s Eagles never did – win three games in a row.

Los Altos last week beat Woodside, Soledad and Independence, improving to 4-2 and showing the kind of progress that pleases coach Jaclyn Brode.

“We want to see improvement every game, and so far, I’ve seen it,” she said after Friday’s 49-28 home rout of Soledad. “We’re getting better.”

Although the Eagles lack experience with only four seniors, they make up for it in other areas, according to Brode.

“The basketball IQ of this team is a lot higher, and there’s more depth,” the coach said in comparing this squad to the one that went 8-15 last season. “I think that’s a huge difference.”

Having freshmen and sophomores who understand the game has compelled Brode to give many of them meaningful minutes on the floor.

Jamie Baum, one of three freshmen on the roster, starts at point guard. She scored seven points Friday, five during the Eagles’ 16-3 third-quarter run to pull away from Soledad (1-3).

Baum and sophomore shooting guard Evelyn Baher-Murphy, who came off the bench to score five points in the third, each drained a 3-pointer in the quarter.

Los Altos’ veteran players had a hand in the home win as well. Guard Naomi Donovan and post player Mahika Gupta, both juniors, led the Eagles with eight points each. Senior center Jamie Kesten contributed five points and senior shooting guard Rachel Lu totaled four points and a team-high six steals.

“I was being aggressive without being overly aggressive and fouling,” said Lu, who made three steals during a 90-second stretch in the second quarter. “Jaclyn has been harping on me to do that for weeks.”

Los Altos, playing pressure defense for most of the game, coerced the Aztecs into committing 26 turnovers Friday night.

“We saw that the press was working (in the first half) and we wanted to stay with it,” Brode said. “We were getting hands in the passing lanes and felt we could get a bunch more tips and a bunch more turnovers that way.”

But in the first quarter, Los Altos committed more turnovers (nine) than its defense created (six). The Eagles’ first five possessions resulted in turnovers, and they didn’t put up a shot until Lu found a cutting Gupta for a layup with 5:36 left in the period.

Los Altos still held a 10-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, after which Brode urged her players to take better care of the ball.

“We can’t set up and do what we want to do, obviously, when we’re turning the ball over,” Brode said. “We just pounded it into their heads: You need to be patient, and you need to ball fake.”

The Eagles seemed to heed her advice. They cut their turnovers to only three in the second quarter.

Yet Los Altos went into halftime leading just 22-20, with sophomore guard Nicole Player breaking the tie by picking up a loose ball and scoring inside with 42 seconds left.

The second half was all Eagles, as they outscored Soledad 27-8. Los Altos held the Aztecs to 3-of-20 shooting and forced 13 turnovers in the half.

“We really tried to come out aggressive and hyped,” Lu said. “We wanted to set the pace of the game and really hustle.”

The Eagles did more of the same Saturday, drubbing Independence 51-19 at the Leland Charger Shootout. Baum scored 10 points and Gupta added nine.

Los Altos is scheduled to visit Carlmont 6 p.m. Friday.

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