The St. Paul Christian School Warriors girls basketball team has arrived at the halfway mark in the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam season in perfect shape, knocking off their latest opponent, the Academy of Our Lady of Guam Cougars, 61-30 on Saturday in Hagåtña.

The 31-point margin of victory marks the closest any team has come to beating the Warriors.

From the opening tip, St. Paul’s nearly impenetrable press defense and unstoppable offense served the Warriors well, surging to a 23-4 lead in the first eight minutes of play. For the first seven minutes, the Warriors scored all of their points in the paint and the free-throw line as Kailie Celo’s speed, A’lura Hernandez’s physicality and Kaylie Pinaula’s sheer skill and determination left the Cougars without answers.

“We just wanted to push the ball up and get the score up as much as we can, so that we can get a lead and can get everyone on the bench engage,” Celo said. “We just didn't want to let Academy get into their groove because it would be harder to stop them.”

As the Warriors seemed to be able to drive at will, they showed that they are much more than a one-trick pony. With about a minute left in the opening period, Pinaula drained a 10-footer from inside the key. With time ticking away, sophomore sensation St. Paul's Ryanna Ngirchomlei drained a 3-pointer, a trio of her game-high 15-point performance.

In the first quarter, Pinaula scored 4 of her 12 points, Celo dropped 8 of her 10 points, Ngirchomlei scored 5 points and Hernandez drained 4 of her 9 points. Sazzy Quintanilla, one of the Warriors’ many weapons, was held scoreless, but her team more than had her back.

In the next two quarters, the Warriors only outscored the Cougars by 4 points, but Academy was unable to come back from the 19-point, first-quarter deficit.

The Cougars stepped up their defense in the second quarter, but the Warriors only allowed three field goals - a pair of buckets from Marie-Jean Paulino and a crowd-pleasing 3-pointer from Mylie Butters, whose smooth-as-butter trey evoked loud cheering from a crowd eager for something to celebrate.

In the second frame, Paulino scored 4 of her team-high 10 points, Butters finished with her only 3 points of the game, and Victoria Rapadas drained all three of her free throws. Rapadas, who finished the game with 7 points, was held to a single field goal but was a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe.

Neither team got anything going in the third quarter, as stagnant offense and accelerated defense kept shots from going through the hoop. After three quarters, the Warriors led 43-20.

“I think we were just getting tired and our offense wasn't really falling,” said Celo, citing reasons for the offensive letdown. “We just had to slow it down and stop rushing and take better shots.”

For Academy to get back into the game, they needed a monstrous fourth quarter, but St. Paul remained savage, locking down on defense, holding the Cougars to just three field goals.

“I could tell they were all frustrated,” Celo said. “They didn't know what to do. So I just kept pushing and pressing them on defense so that it would just get in their head.”

As Academy struggled with lighting up the scoreboard, Ngirchomlei did not, scoring 10 points in the period, the same amount of points the Cougars scored in the final frame.

The Cougars are the reigning IIAAG champs, but the 2022-2023 season may be the Warriors for the taking.

“We all want to win and bring the championship back home to St. Paul’s,” Celo said. 

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