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With less than a minute left in the game, Maddie Miller shifted the momentum back to St. Joseph’s side with her defense.

The junior stepped in front of a Nipomo pass near half court, extended her arms, forced the steal and, lastly, ended the sequence with the fast-break layup – giving the Knights the lead for good as St. Joseph rallied to beat the Titans 43-41 on Thursday.

The game was part of the recently created St. Joseph/Righetti Winter Tournament – which featured teams that were originally scheduled to be in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions until that was called off due to the ongoing Thomas fire, which has now burned more than 270,000 acres.

Knights head coach Ed Torres was dealing with a Titans team that once led 30-22 in the third quarter – having outscored St. Joseph (1-4) 26-12. But defense became the norm for the Knights, especially in the final minute.

“We did a great job there,” Torres said after the game. “We had about two to three stops there – but that’s what you have to do to win the game. You’ve got to play defense and get some stops.”

After Corey Fowler hit a free throw to put the lead at 43-41, the Titans had one more chance to score with 3.2 seconds left. Nipomo, however, couldn’t manage to get a shot off – because of a swarm of three Knight defensive players flocking to the ball near the 3-point line.

Torres had a feeling this contest with Nipomo would be down to the wire.

“I thought it would be a pretty even fought game. I just thought that we made some stops in the end that really helped,” Torres said. “We struggled offensively, but that was because of Nipomo’s effort plus us being off for a few days because of finals. But a win is a win.”

Both teams struggled to get on the board right away – as the first basket didn’t fall through the net until the 5:45 mark of the first quarter as Abbey Guiterrez was the first to score for NHS. Jenna Patel followed with her basket at the 4:59 mark.

Turnovers started hurting the Titans, causing an 8-0 run for the Knights and placing St. Joseph in front 10-4. But Nipomo responded with its big run late in the first as the Titans scored the last seven points in the first.

Nipomo took the 20-17 lead at halftime before increasing it to 30-22. The Knights, though, got ignited through Patel, Miller and two big 3-point baskets from Sam Brackett that came in the second half.

Patel, a returning senior guard for the Knights, scored 10 of her team-high 15 points in the third quarter. Brackett finished with eight while Miller finished with six.

On Nipomo's side, Guiterrez had 12 points. Clarissa Simonson had nine points and seven rebounds while Maddie Witcher finished with eight points.

Torres said that he feared the long layover caused by the Thomas fire would cause rust for his team.

“Yeah, there was. We’ve been off for four to five days due to finals and then the fire. There were a lot of changes,” Torres said. “But there’s no excuse. Nipomo played well. We just managed to get a final stop in the end.”

Torres concluded that he was proud of how quickly the tournament formed, as games continue until Saturday at both Righetti High and St. Joseph.

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“Myself and coach (Desiree) Hitch talked and said ‘Hey, let’s try to get some games in. Let’s contact the teams that were supposed to be in the Santa Barbara tournament.’ We were lucky to get 10 of them,” Torres said. “It took a lot of work to put something together. But between the two of us, we were able to get this tournament together. Who knows, maybe this will become an annual event.”

The Knights will take on Lompoc at the SJHS gym on Friday, 7:30 p.m. Nipomo (3-2) will take on Hanford Sierra Pacific in a 4:30 p.m. Friday contest at the RHS gym. 

Boys basketball

Santa Maria 92, Ventura Foothill Tech 90

It was a wild one in Wilson Gym with the Saints pulling out a thriller over Foothill Tech.

Joey Nevarez led Santa Maria with 28 points and five rebounds, Blake Truhitte added 19 points and six boards while Kobe Medina scored 16 and Jon Ramos chipped in 13 and seven.

Carlos Ochoa came off the bench with a big spark for Santa Maria and added 10 rebounds to lead the Saints in that category.

"It was a fast-paced game with both teams going at each other," Santa Maria coach Dave Yamate said in an email to the Times. "It was a hard-fought game to help us get ready for our holiday tourney next week. I was happy with how my guys competed!"

Santa Maria improves its record to 4-1 and Foothill drops to 4-1.