Heralds basketball teams escape late pressure situations on the road
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
NORTH HILLS – The Whittier Christian boys’ basketball team rebounded from a league-opening loss by keeping ahead of Heritage Christian in a 57-54 victory, Thursday night at Heritage Christian School.
The Heralds bucked another trend, winning their first game in which their opponent scored more than 50 points.
Forward Jake Rivera began to return to form with 19 points as the Heralds led throughout, but perservered through a pressure-filled fourth quarter to hang on to the victory.
“We wanted this one, it was a must win in my mind,” Rivera said. “It felt good to get back and get that first bucket in, it gave me confidence, but I have the easy job, I just hit shots. My teammates did a great job getting me the ball in good situations.”
In three separate occasions, the Warriors (4-9, 0-1) threatened to even the score by shrinking the deficit to three points.
However, each time the Heralds felt pressure, they ran the floor and trusted Rivera to put up a clutch shot.
The senior delivered with a three-point play and the Heralds used ball movement to run out most of the remaining clock.
“We just ran our sets, coach called good plays and we executed and hit good shots,” Rivera said.
The Heralds (11-6, 1-1) came into the game with a full head of steam, taking an 18-7 lead midway through the first quarter as Rivera scored nine early points.
However, consecutive 3-pointers by the Warriors’ Jacob Lahorra and Timothy Brandon helped to shrink the lead to 18-14 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Heralds seized momentum using the same method as Kaipo Villeza and Ryan Esslinger hit back-to-back 3-pointers. The Heralds led 32-25 at halftime.
“We thought we could pressure them and some of that pressure resulted in some easy looks for us,” Durham said. “Once we got out and got comfortable, that was the gameplan. We wanted to pressure early and take their crowd out of it and we did until late in the game, but we hit key free throws and had some key possessions in the end.”
Villeza hit two more 3-pointers in the third quarter and Christian Labadie drove in for a layup to give the Heralds their biggest lead at 42-30.
However, that’s when the Warriors made things interesting with their long distance shooting.
Brandon led the Warriors with five 3-pointers for 15 points. He hit three of them in the third quarter to help Heritage Christian game some momentum.
Samson Young and Michael Brandon scored four points each down low and earned fouls to get to the free throw line.
However, Rivera matched with a pair of inside layups and two free throws. Stephen Nolin added a crucial offensive rebound and put back.
“We like the fact that we came away the victory, but in certain situations, we need to realize that [Heritage Christian] needed to come to us and foul us instead of rushing shots,” said Sherwin Durham, Heralds head coach. “There were a couple occasions where it shouldn’t have been this close in the end, even though we got the win, we need to be smarter and it’s a learning experience.”
The Heralds will attempt to fine tune their offense against zone defenses when the play Loara on the road, Monday at 4 p.m.
The Heralds jump back into league play with a home game against Valley Christian, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m.
“We want to try to get some other kids some playing time, you never know when you’ll need them down the stretch,” Durham said of the focus against Loara. “I think they’ll be throwing a little zone, so we’ll try to polish up the offense against that style of defense because Valley plays some zone as well.”
NORTH HILLS – For the second consecutive league contest, the Whittier Christian girls’ basketball team had to play catch-up in the second half.
However, against Heritage Christian on the road, the Lady Heralds overcame a 13-point third quarter deficit to defeat the Lady Warriors, 51-48.
“I felt like we let up a bit defensively in the first half, we let them have their open shots at the 3-point line,” said Grace Ricafranca, Whittier Christian head coach. “We had to make some adjustments, we wanted to make our presence known and I think that’s when we gain our confidence offensively is when we get a good stop.”
Whittier Christian freshman Christa Evans put in the go-ahead layup off a pass from Amanda Ashworth with just under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The teams then frantically went back-and-forth, but went scoreless until Hannah Yoshihara hit a free throw with 11 seconds remaining.
“It wasn’t so much the pressure, but there was a lot of adrenaline,” said senior captain Sydney Lopez of the final minutes. “I play off that, so that helped in that situation.”
Evans’ shot gave the Lady Heralds (10-7, 1-1) their first lead since early in the second quarter, but it was Lopez who led the charge, scoring 12 of her team-high 20 points in the second half. She added 16 rebounds in earning a double-double.
Down 30-20 at halftime, Lopez scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the third quarter as Whittier Christian chipped away at the lead.
“We knew that we needed to come back and play harder,” Lopez said. “We made the adjustment to use the ball fake down low and we needed to open up and that helped in the third quarter.”
Evans scored six of her 10 points in the second half as the Lady Heralds made an adjustment to get the ball in the low post on the offensive end.
“We felt like we had a size advantage that we wanted to put to good use,” Ricafranca said. “It worked out well for us in the end.”
The fast finish matched a quick start by the Lady Heralds, who led 15-8 after the first quarter.
However, the Lady Warriors (3-8, 0-1) seized momentum with a huge second quarter.
Guards Sabrina Zarifi and Liana Minassian each hit a pair of 3-pointers and the team hit six total in the quarter as they outscored the Lady Heralds 25-8 to take a 33-23 lead at halftime.
Minassian led Heritage Christian with 14 points and Zarifi scored 13 points. Forward Briana Davis added 10 points and the Lady Warriors hit nine of their 17 attempts from beyond the arc.
After the Lady Warriors big second quarter, the Lady Heralds held Heritage Christian to 15 points in the second half.
“We knew that Heritage was going to be a tough opponent coming in, especially with them being defending league champs,” Ricafranca said. “We wanted to start quickly and we did that and when we had a chance to make our move, we capitalized.”
Whittier Christian continues Olympic League play with a home game against rival Valley Christian, Jan. 24 at home.