Whittier Christian, La Habra boys hoops pick up big tournament wins
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Fueled by a fast start and plenty of outside shooting, the Whittier Christian boys’ basketball team earned a championship berth in the Leon Davis Christmas Classic after besting Riverside Prep of Oro Grande 47-40, Saturday night at Whittier Christian High.
Senior forward Jake Rivera put up the game’s first eight points and the Heralds (8-4) led by as many as 15 points in the second quarter. The Heralds hit seven 3-pointers.
“They are very athletic and quick, so we thought if put pressure on them and made them play faster than what they’re accustomed to, as crazy as that sounds, that would work in our favor,” said Sherwin Durham, Heralds head coach. “That’s what helped us to the big advantage in the first half.”
Rivera started the game with two 3-pointers and a layup to put the Heralds up 8-0 immediately. Christian Labadie and Shawn Stolt provided help with nine combined points as the Heralds led 17-9 after the first quarter.
Another long distance shot by Ryan Esslinger and a jumper by Rivera stretched the lead to 24-9, but back-to-back 3-pointers by the Silver Knights’ Cameron Woods and Vision Pluma late in the quarter reduced the lead to nine points at the half.
“We think it’s contagious, there can be a trickle-down effect,” Durham said of the multiple contributors in scoring. “It’s huge, we want to stretch the floor. We’re different, we want to play inside-out, but these guys love to shoot, so we play outside-in. We want to switch it, but if we can knock down some 3s, that’s going to stretch the defense and then we have a post game that can match that.”
Things slowed down for the Heralds from there as Rivera went cold from the field. Pluma hit another 3-pointer for Riverside Prep (8-2) and forward Chris Bailey added three baskets down low as the Silver Knights cut the lead to five points heading into the fourth quarter.
The Heralds maintained the lead thanks to long distance shots by Esslinger and Kaipo Villeza.
Rivera found his stride again in the fourth quarter and the Heralds controlled the boards in leading to the seven-point victory.
“We have athletes, guys that can jump and are physical down there,” Durham said. “We want to win points in the paint and the battle of the boards and if you can do that, usually you are on the winning side of things.”
Rivera led the Heralds with 21 points and Esslinger added 10 points, including a 3-for-4 night from 3-point range, to go with eight rebounds. Shawn Stolt added six points and picked up 10 rebounds.
Bailey led the Silver Knights with 11 points, while Elijah Woods and Pluma added nine and eight points respectively. Elijah Woods had a team-high eight rebounds.
The Heralds will move on to the championship game where they will play Troy, which beat Valley Christian 68-63 to earn its spot in the finals.
“They’re a good team, they’re solid,” Durham said of Troy. “When I saw them earlier in the week, I wasn’t sure if they were the team that would come out of that side, but they started to play better and better, it was good for us to see that. I think we’ll be up for the task, they’re sort of a carbon copy of what we do and they might be a little better at it, but the final score on Monday will let us know for sure.”
The game will take place at Whittier Christian High, Monday at 6 p.m.
It didn’t take long for the La Habra boys’ basketball team to fix some problems that plagued the team in Friday night’s loss to Claremont in the Whittier Holiday Invitational.
Less than 24 hours after seeing their six-game win streak snapped, the Highlanders jumped out to an early lead, dominated the boards and forced a handful of turnovers in beating Glenn 81-49, Saturday afternoon at Whittier High.
Guard Zach Gray led the charge with 24 points while playing only the first three quarters. His 3-point shooting helped the Highlanders (8-3) score the first 10 points of the game.
“We shot the ball really well early on,” said Dave Ploog, Highlanders’ head coach. “When you get that going, it really helps. It spread the floor out, which opened us up inside. It’s good for Zach too because it helps his confidence, he’s one of our best shooters.”
Adam Cooley, who also didn’t play the fourth quarter, provided support with 14 points as La Habra scored more than 20 points in each of the first three quarters.
Michael Banks added eight points and led the team with 11 rebounds. As a team, the Highlanders outrebounded the Eagles 43-19.
“They were running zone, so we had two guys on the high post and low post,” Ploog said in regards to offensive rebounding. “They were able to crash in really well and that made a big difference because we always had one guy underneath their defense and that really helped over time.”
Gray scored 12 of his 24 points in the first quarter on four 3-pointers. He and Adam Cooley combined for La Habra’s 10-0 run to start the game.
In the second quarter, Justin Jaimez and Peter Hutchinson took over, scoring seven points each as the Highlanders enjoyed a comfortable 45-17 lead at the break.
Gray’s fifth 3-pointer pushed La Habra to its highest lead at 37 points in the third quarter.
Banks and Devin Melendez each had four points and four rebounds in the fourth quarter as the Highlanders cruised to victory.
“The fourth quarter gave us a chance to evaluate some of our bench players to see how we can use them in league if we need them to fill in for a few minutes,” Ploog said. “I saw some really good things in their defense and rebounding, so that’s good to know for the future.”
The 81 points scored by La Habra are a season high for the team and 17 points more than its previous season high of 64 in a tournament game against South Torrance.
Forward Alan Solorzano led Glenn (6-6) with 18 points while guard Sunny Bedi scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
The Highlanders wrap up the 4th Annual Whittier Holiday Classic with a 3 p.m. tilt against Warren, Monday at Whittier High.