Raiders exact a little revenge, repeat as NOCC champions
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
If there wasn’t already a major rivalry between the Sonora and Canyon boys’ basketball teams, it may have started after Saturday night’s tilt in the championship game of the North Orange County Championships.
Two weeks ago, Canyon edged the Raiders by two points to win the El Modena Canyon Kickoff Classic championship. Raiders’ head coach Mike Murphy has not been on the bench for Sonora since.
This time, the Raiders returned the favor, overcoming a 14-point third quarter deficit and surviving a wild finish to hand the Comanches their first loss of the season, 58-55 to claim their second consecutive NOCC Championship.
“We just never give up, we lost our coach a couple weeks ago and we’ve just really pulled together as a team,” said Adam Marlow, Sonora senior guard. “I knew we had it in us, it was just a matter of playing hard and playing until the final buzzer.”
Ben Rico led the Raiders (9-2) with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Adam Marlow and center Steven Murphy added 10 points each. Sonora outscored the Comanches 38-25 in the second half.
During a back-and-forth final quarter, Marlow hit a tough runner, which rattled in to give Sonora the lead for good at 57-55 with 36 seconds remaining.
The senior then forced a bad shot by Canyon’s Anthony Ballestero on the other end, which forced the Comanches to foul Rico after he grabbed the rebound.
But things didn’t look good for Sonora early on as Canyon (9-1) hauled in 15 offensive rebounds in the first half, leading to a 30-20 score at the break.
Canyon took it’s biggest lead at 38-24 when it forced a turnover, which led to an easy transition layup by Nick Anderson, who was limited to four points after torching the Raiders for 27 points two weeks ago.
“We were just playing really tentative, like we were scared,” said Jason Stein, Sonora interim co-coach. “They just out-hustled us, they’re obviously a really good team. Every 50-50 ball, they got it. They were just crashing the boards harder and we addressed that at halftime, we gave up 15 offensive rebounds in the first half, which is ridiculous.”
On top of the rebounding issues, Josh Rodriguez was in foul trouble and played a limited role, scoring just seven points.
But his exit midway through the third quarter only motivated his teammates further, as Sonora responded with a 16-1 run to take a 40-39 lead with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The lead was Sonora’s first since Rico opened the game with a 3-pointer.
The Raiders’ full-court press forced turnovers, while on the other end, they were patient and got the ball inside to Murphy, who scored eight of his 10 points in the third quarter.
“Josh went out with foul trouble and it’s just the nature of this team to pull together,” Marlow said. “We were just tired of losing to Canyon, it was good to finally beat them.”
Sonora kept a slight edge thanks to three-point shooting in the fourth quarter. Rico and guard Christian Rhodes both hit long distance shots to keep Sonora on top.
“I think our crowd is bringing us a lot of energy, the student support is great and I don’t think we’ve ever had a crowd like this for a December game,” Stein said. “And I don’t know how else to say it, but we have some ballers. They have a lot of heart.”
But after every big shot Sonora made, Canyon responded immediately by running the floor. Kaleb Phillips hit a 3-pointer and Ballestero followed with a jumper, keeping the pressure on the host Raiders.
Ballestero tied the game at 55-55 with a basket and free throw, but Phillips missed a crucial free throw attempt that would have given Canyon the lead.
“It feels amazing,” Marlow said of the tournament championship. “We were finally able to beat [Canyon] and I think it will just take off from here. We’re on a roll and we’re hoping to continue that.”
Jordan Rohan led the Comanches with 13 points, while Phillips added 11. Ballestero and Davante Parker added 10 points each. Nick Anderson, one of Canyon’s top scorers, was held to just four points, but grabbed 12 rebounds.
All 10 points by Parker came in the second quarter.
All-tournament selections included Canyon’s Anderson and Ballestero and Sonora’s Rico and Marlow. Josh Rodriguez, who scored 41 points in a game earlier this week against Riverside King, was selected as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“This feels great, but it’s all building on what Mike Murphy has done, he trained us as coaches, he’s training all the players,” Stein said. “He’s led everyone since the spring and we’re just going off what he’s taught us and what he’s taught the players. When we looked at the field for this tournament, it was unbelievable, we thought it would be good to go 3-2, but to win it again and beat Canyon, the No. 3 team in the county, it’s just great.”