Despite its scoring struggles in the second half, the Los Altos High girls basketball team regained the lead on Mahika Gupta’s quick jumper from the middle of the paint – set up by Jamie Baum’s lob pass – with 3:04 left in Friday’s game against Homestead.
The one-point lead would be the Eagles’ last. The visiting Mustangs scored eight of the final nine points to prevail 46-40.
Although Los Altos faltered at the finish – the team missed its last three shots, split a pair of free throws and committed two turnovers in the final two and a half minutes – coach Jaclyn Brode applauded the Eagles’ effort.
“My girls played awesome,” she said. “Every single one that went in I thought did what they’re supposed to do. It wasn’t a perfect game, but they fought hard.”
They also fought back. The Eagles overcame a 7-0 deficit to lead 15-11 by the end of the first quarter. They answered Homestead’s opening run with a 10-0 spurt that began with Jamie Kesten’s jumper from just above the foul line two minutes into the period. Mone Sekiguchi and Rachel Lu then scored on back-to-back drives, Gupta nailed a baseline jumper and Sekiguchi made a pair of free throws.
“She’s been getting to the basket like crazy,” Brode said of Sekiguchi, a freshman who finished the game – her third-straight start – with six points. “She’s really improving.”
The Mustangs snapped their scoring drought with two free throws by Izzy Sathy. The teams then swapped buckets – Sekiguchi converted a drive and Homestead’s Jaide Chen scored on a putback – before Anjali Nand drained a top-of-the-key 3 to give Los Altos a four-point edge entering the second quarter.
The Eagles quickly stretched their lead to 17-11 on a putback by Gupta, who finished with a team-high 12 points. Her free throw with two minutes remaining in the half put Los Altos up 25-18, matching its biggest lead of the game.
The Mustangs rallied, however, getting 3s from Lindsey Takahashi and Trinity Gao to cut their deficit to a point by intermission. Gao totaled 13 points, tying teammate Sathy for game-high honors.
Los Altos struck first in the second half, with Baum burying a 3 from the top of the arc in the opening minute. The freshman point guard scored five of her seven points in the third. The teams traded baskets the rest of the quarter, which ended in a 34-all tie.
The Eagles went back on top a minute into the fourth on a reverse layup by Gupta. The Mustangs scored the next four points, with Gao’s drive giving them a 38-36 advantage with 4:16 to play. Nand’s free throw narrowed the gap to one, and the Baum-to-Gupta lob resulted in Los Altos’ last lead.
Homestead answered with a 3 by Lindsey Haynes with 2:37 left, then made five of its eight free throws down the stretch to keep Los Altos at bay.
The free-throw disparity in the fourth – the Mustangs shot 12 and the Eagles only four – incited Brode, who received a technical foul with 2.9 seconds left for complaining to the refs.
“I told the girls in (the locker room), I’ll chalk that one up to me,” Brode said. “I tell them to be mentally tough and then I lost my cool there at the end. I never want to get those technicals, but I have to stick up for the girls.”
Los Altos, held to six points in the fourth, has dropped three games in a row. At 5-5 in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division, the Eagles (11-11 overall) are tied with Milpitas for third place with two games left before the playoffs. Homestead is right behind them at 5-6.
“All is not lost,” Brode said. “It’s not a three-game losing streak where everyone feels doom and gloom. Heads weren’t hanging in there – they want to get back to work. They’re still excited to play, which makes me excited to coach and improve.”
Los Altos is slated to wrap up the regular season 6:15 p.m. Friday at home against Lynbrook.