BURBANK — In avenging its lone league defeat of the season, the Providence High girls' basketball team defeated Holy Martyrs in the semifinals of the Liberty League Tournament and is one win away from capturing its fifth straight title.
Kristie Kawamoto paced the Pioneers with 23 points, including five three-pointers, to propel Providence to a 50-15 home victory Wednesday over the Armens, who offered little resistance, and certainly not anywhere near the Jan. 28 tilt between the two teams that saw Holy Martyrs come away with a one-point victory.
This time around, Kawamoto and the steady Pioneers' offense, complemented by suffocating and relentless defense, resulted in team's fourth straight win of the season, and one win away from reigning supreme in the Liberty League once again.
"Obviously, we needed two wins to be league champions again," said Pioneers Coach Andrew Bencze, who took over the program in 1994 and has guided the program to 10 league titles and a trip to the state tournament the last two seasons. "We've won four years in a row, so there's pressure to win a fifth. And I think the players are responding well to that pressure."
Providence (15-6) will host the winner of Pacifica Christian and Archer Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the title contest.
Against the Armens (11-10), Providence allowed only seven field goals, taking the pressure of its offense that didn't necessarily need any aid. The Pioneers' potent and steady-flowing offense resulted in 46 percent shooting from the field through three quarters, including seven three-pointers.
Both teams combined for eight points in a fourth quarter that allowed Bencze to go deep into his bench, as the game was well in hand.
Providence scored the first seven points of the game before the Armens got on the scoreboard with 4:20 remaining in the opening quarter. They did not score again until the 5:20 mark of the second quarter, snapping a 12-0 Pioneers' run.
By that point, though, Providence had a 17-point lead that would prove to be insurmountable for a Holy Martyrs squad that could never figure out how to overcome the Pioneers defense.
Kawamoto put in 18 of her 23 points in the first half, and made more three-pointers than the opposition made field goals — a bad formula for the Armens, who trailed 22 points at the half and didn't reach double figures until late in the third quarter.
"I just wanted to play hard, because I want that banner," said Kawamoto, who is looking for second Liberty League championship after transferring two years ago. "Our defense was really good, and we were better on offense. We moved the ball more."
The Pioneers were able to prevail, despite five points from leading scorer Katia Dabbaghian. The junior guard did a nice job of playing the role of facilitator and running the offense. Moreover, she pulled down eight rebounds.
Deanna Nazarian led the team with four assists, but it was her hustle play on two possessions in the second quarter that led to a pair of threes from Kawamoto, which stood out and highlighted a resounding win for a Providence squad that will look to take a winning streak into the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA playoffs.
"We have a long-time rivalry with Holy Martyrs, and it seems like we take turns beating each other in big games," Bencze said. "I'm happy with this one."