Sports

Fast first half by Cal spoils home opener for Highlanders

Adam Cooley, pictured against La Serna, led the Highlanders with 21 points, eight of which were scored in the fourth quarter of La Habra's loss to Cal, Friday night at home.
Adam Cooley, pictured against La Serna, led the Highlanders with 21 points, eight of which were scored in the fourth quarter of La Habra’s loss to Cal, Friday night at home.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

When the La Habra boys’ basketball team fell behind by upwards of 21 points against California in the second quarter, the focus was to try to chip away and take it one possession at a time.

Despite falling to the Condors 70-63, the Highlanders (10-5) shrunk an 18-point halftime deficit to just six points with 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter and can carry some positive momentum into Freeway League play, which opens up next Wednesday.

“We responded well and if nothing else, we can take that away from this game,” said Dave Ploog, La Habra head coach. “In the first half, we couldn’t match their speed, so we talked at halftime about taking it possession by possession and just staying in front of them, making them shoot over us because of our length and it made a big difference.”

Down by 16 points heading into the fourth quarter, the Highlanders went on a 16-6 run in the fourth quarter, with eight of those points coming from Adam Cooley, to shrink the lead to 65-59.

But the magic ran out as Cooley missed three free throws after being fouled on an attempted 3-pointer and the Condors held on, avenging a loss to La Habra in its season opener.

Cooley, who hit his first six free throws in the fourth quarter, led La Habra with 21 points while battling foul trouble along with guards Zach Gray and Justin Jaimez.

All three players had three fouls each before halftime. Gray fouled out with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

“It does affect us, we have to stay out of foul trouble in order to stay in games,” Ploog said. “A lot of our fouls were unnecessary, they were away from the basket and that’s where we have to be smart. The same thing happened against Tesoro, this is the second game we’ve been stuck in foul trouble and it costs us when we don’t have our starters on the floor.”

Peter Hutchinson came off the bench to score 10 points for the Highlanders and Alex Evanoff hauled in eight rebounds, four of them on the offensive side.

While the Highlanders finished strong, the Condors immediately quieted the crowd in La Habra’s home opener.

Forward Carlos Legaspy took control early with 10 first-quarter points. However, a basket by forward Brady Gravitt gave Cal its biggest lead of the quarter at 17-7. Gravitt also secured a team-high 11 rebounds.

Cal (10-5) only got stronger in the second quarter. Point guard Jake Mata seized momentum with three 3-pointers and five free throws, leading the Condors to a 48-30 lead at halftime.

Mata scored 19 points, leading a trio of Condors who scored in double digits. Legaspy added 16 points and guard Anthony Rodriguez scored 12 points.

A jump shot by Rodriguez gave Cal its biggest lead at 43-22 late in the second quarter.

“More than anything it was our first home game and the kids were amped up to be here,” Ploog said. “We didn’t play smart because of that. We played excited, but that didn’t translate into smart basketball and in the first half that cost us, they had too many open jumpers and give credit to Cal, they hit a lot of tough shots, which surprised us. It was hard to recover after that.”

The Highlanders focused on their defense for the third quarter while putting Cal in foul trouble on the offensive side.

While it didn’t net much of a difference in the deficit, the Condors’ outside shooters went cold and Cal put La Habra in the bonus early in the fourth quarter, which the Highlanders turned into nine made free throws.

Jaimez hit a 3-pointer, his lone basket of the game, to cut the lead to six points, but La Habra got no closer.

The Highlanders (10-5) now focus their attention to the Freeway League, where they open up on the road against Fullerton, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

“In the second half, we did the things we were supposed to do, we moved the ball well, kept them in front, we rebounded better and got more steals,” Ploog said. “If we can play like that for an entire game, we’ll stay in control. Tonight, we weren’t in control in the first half and it cost us, so I think that’s what we need to take away is trying to keep control.”

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.