Birmingham girls basketball pushes the pace to beat El Camino Real

LAKE BALBOA — Birmingham girls basketball does everything fast. Running is sprinkled in throughout practices and drills are done all out. And on Friday night, the Patriots used their speedy style of play to control the ball and beat El Camino Real 68-53 at Birmingham.

“We don’t really like having the other team control the game,” Birmingham’s Zoee Mitchell said. “Win or lose, we go at our own pace and we take our time and we finish.”

Mitchell led Birmingham with 15 points, followed by Lili Martinez with 13 points and DeeDee Berry with 12 points.

Laila Bowens scored 22 points for El Camino Real and Amirah Smith chipped in 12 points.

Granada Hills Charter and Birmingham are the only two unbeaten teams left in the West Valley League. The two will meet for a game on Jan. 22 at Birmingham. The Patriots came in second for the last two seasons behind the Highlanders, but are drawing attention this season.

“Everybody’s talking about us being at the top,” Birmingham coach Victor Koopongsakorn said. “These girls have never been in that position before of defending the lead. So let’s see if we can have that mentality of taking care of business.”

Birmingham (12-5 overall, 2-0 in West Valley League) pushed the tempo immediately to build a 10-6 lead, but El Camino Real adjusted. Smith hit a turnaround jumper and made the and-one after to cut the deficit to 10-9. She later scored on another jumper to tie the game at 12-12 with 3:27 left in the quarter.

The remainder of the quarter was neck-in-neck. Andrea Arosemena made two free throws to pull Birmingham ahead 18-17 at the end of the frame.

The Patriots surged again at the start of the second quarter and fought off the Royals (9-6, 1-1) for a 34-28 advantage by halftime.

Berry made back-to-back layups with 2:18 left and Sammy Velazquez grabbed a steal and went in for a layup for the final basket of the half.

Andrew Schultz is in his first year as head coach for the Royals and took over a program that went 8-21 overall and 3-7 in West Valley League play last season. They lost in the quarterfinals of the Los Angeles City Section Division I playoffs.

“We’re starting to learn how to play basketball the right way,” Schultz said. “They’ve just been getting better and better every day since I started working with them over the summer.”

Birmingham got ahead and stayed ahead in the third quarter when Annette Jones drove to the net for a layup and a 49-34 lead with 1:35 left. The Royals briefly battled back, but the Patriots’ defense came back when Velazquez snagged two more steals for layups in clutch moments.

The Royals had one more run with roughly two minutes remaining and scored 16 points in the final period of play. Bowens, a transfer from Sierra Canyon, scored seven of those points and seized opportunities to take control of the game and drive to the net.

“She’s a total impact player,” Schultz said. “She plays the game the right way and she’s incredibly gifted and fast.

Berry drained a 3-pointer near the two-minute mark as Birmingham’s pace picked up once again without sacrificing quality, a style that could put the Patriots on top of the West Valley League this season.

“Our energy was top tier,” Berry said. “We talk and communicate. Whether we want to hear it or not, we still have to communicate that energy and keep it where we want it.”

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