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January 31, 2023

Grizzlies pounce on Spartans to remain unbeaten in league play | Girls basketball

Pajaro Valley improves to 2-0 in Santa Lucia Division

WATSONVILLE—It took a while for the Pajaro Valley High girls’ basketball team to turn its season around prior to the start of league play.

But once the afterburners came on the Grizzlies have gone full speed ahead, including in Friday night’s 32-25 win against Gonzales in Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia action.

Junior guard Thalia Blue believes the accelerated pace comes from having that mindset of trying to win and be at top of the league standings. With the win, Pajaro Valley improves to 2-0 in league play.

Moving forward, she’s just hoping they’re also able to slow down.

“I saw once the game was getting closer we were starting to rush the shots and not taking our time, and also again, [not] communicating,” she said.

Pajaro Valley coach Mark Harris has been working with the players to play at an uptempo pace. He’s attempting to mimic the same style used during the 2018-19 season, which featured former standout Jayleen Solorzano.

However, the plan sort of backfired on him and it showed on Friday night when the Grizzlies forced unnecessary shots, instead of making the extra pass. 

“They want to go 101 miles per hour,” Harris said. “When I say slow down to 75, they really can’t.”

Harris doesn’t want the players to completely pump the breaks, yet he does want them to be able to close out a game by making those extra passes or one more dribble to kill the game clock.

“We’re learning basketball here,” Harris said. “We can go fast, now we gotta learn to be able to slow down when we have to.”

Harris also noted they don’t play well against a zone defense because of the faster pace they like to comfortably play in. 

“Man us up, which they did in the fourth quarter, that’s great because that fits well with [Blue’s] speed,” Harris said. 

The Spartans came out with a 3-2 zone and then switched to the 1-3-1, which the Grizzlies don’t see too often.

“Hats off, [Gonzales’] game plan worked,” Harris said.

The Spartans have historically played Pajaro Valley tough, especially when Gonzales has a chance to play on its home court that includes a school band and a deafening fan base. 

“You really got to be focused,” he said. “We’re probably going to be pumping some crowd noise into the gym at practice to get ourselves ready.”

Blue, who was a transfer student from Watsonville High, was cleared to play Dec. 31. She made a splash during her debut by scoring 21 points in a 42-30 win over Pacific Collegiate School in league play Jan 12. 

Blue also had six rebounds, two assists and one block for Pajaro Valley, which hadn’t seen action on the court since its non-league game against Alvarez on Dec. 20.

It was a rough time, to say the least, for Blue who had to sit out until their season opener against PCS.

“It was sad and depressing because I love basketball,” she said. “My family, we’re a basketball family. It was sad with me sitting on the bench, but also I saw that when my energy wasn’t up the girls weren’t playing as best as they could. So, I had to bring it up.” 

Harris said that Blue seemed a bit nervous after arriving at Pajaro Valley because she was used to playing at a different tempo and level with an established program at Watsonville High. 

However, the players have embraced Blue ever since they brought her into the fold and she learned everyone’s tendencies. She said the mindset is always focusing, trying her best and getting her teammates involved. 

“Goof around and just get the girls happy, just have that good mindset,” she said. “Just have a fun game.” 

Blue also brings more of a floor general presence on the court and takes pressure off of the seniors.

“She gives the senior girls a little bit more confidence because they’re so used to being the ones that create everything,” Harris said. “With Thalia now, she can create and she can also dish.”

Harris noticed that senior guard Annel Andrade, who finished with six points on Friday, is loving the fact that she now has the freedom to get open for a 3-pointer.

Blue reminds Harris of Solorzano, who became the first basketball player—boy or girl—from Pajaro Valley to sign a letter of intent to play for a college program.

Solorzano led the Grizzlies to their first Santa Lucia Division title and helped the program win a Central Coast Section Division III playoff game. 

Harris said that Blue is just a slightly taller version of Solorzano with the cross over and euro step.

“And [Blue] hustles,” he said.

Blue had to slowly make her way onto the scout team and now she’s with the first group. The players have meshed around her and practices have gotten a lot more intense, at times going up against the JV boys team that will play a physical press or man defense to toughen up the girls.  

“You saw, they got knocked around and got back up,” Harris said.

The Grizzlies (8-7, 2-0) will attempt to keep the intensity up and their league record intact with a meeting at Marina (1-6, 0-3) on Tuesday at 7pm.

Juan Reyes
A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.

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