Heralds run past Loara with second half push
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Hoping to tune up its offensive gameplan against zone defenses, the Whittier Christian boys’ basketball team found a gold mine on the baseline in a 59-51 victory over Loara, Monday afternoon at Loara High.
Though the Heralds had some trouble finishing around the basket, it didn’t deter them from dominating the third quarter and taking a relatively smooth nonleague victory.
“That was a tribute to our defense, we came out and gave them 17 points in the first quarter and that wasn’t acceptable,” said Sherwin Durham, Whittier Christian head coach. “I felt our defense really started to kick in during the second quarter. Defensively, we need to transition into some easy buckets for the offense and that was the case today.”
Jake Rivera was a big part of that one-sided third quarter, scoring eight of his team-high 14 points. Christian Labadie and Kaipo Villeza added 13 points each. Stephen Nolin chipped in with nine points and seven rebounds for Whittier Christian while three others contributed with six rebounds.
With the game tied 28-28 early in the third quarter, Labadie hit a 3-pointer and Rivera hit three consecutive easy shots inside for the first of two 9-0 runs by the Heralds, which stretched the lead to 46-32.
Villeza, Shawn Stolt and Branden Osborn combined for the second run.
In addition to fine-tuning the offense, Durham took an opportunity to get extended playing time for some of his bench players, mainly the big men.
Rivera and Stolt paired up to start the game, but Nolin and Jimmy West both earned plenty of minutes and the Heralds’ offense didn’t skip a beat.
“We have some guys that can fill the ball from the top of the key and we have some good post players,” Durham said. “When the perimeter game isn’t what we would like it to be, then we can get that inside presence, get them some touches and see what we can do with it. I like the way we’re sharing the basketball.”
Villeza got the Heralds going early, scoring the team’s first seven points. Rivera hit a pair of 3-pointers to help build a 17-11 lead.
In addition, Labadie and Esslinger consistently zipped a pass to the baseline, where all four big men found plenty of space to work throughout the game.
“I like to watch game film of opponents to see what they’ll give us and that was one of the things we noticed,” Durham said. “They like to give up the low baseline, so the high-low action that we had paid dividends for us today.”
However, led by wing player Isaiah Merrill, the Saxons (9-11) clawed back. Merrill scored nine of his game-high 18 points in the first quarter, trimming the Heralds’ lead to 18-17 after one quarter.
Realizing Merrill’s ability to create shots, Durham made a defensive switch and gave Ryan Esslinger the task of guarding Loara’s big shooter.
The result was a combined two points in the second and third quarters, which allowed Whittier Christian (12-6) to maintain either a lead or tie.
“Ryan’s one of our better defensive players and even though we gave up some size with that matchup, he made up for it with heart,” Durham said. “I think he triggers our defense, they see he’s energized in trying to stop our opponent’s top scorer and I think they feed off that.”
The Heralds maintained the one-point lead at halftime before breaking away in the third quarter. Nolin scored six points in the fourth quarter to keep the lead comfortable down the stretch.
In addition to leading the team in scoring, Merrill hauled in a team-high five rebounds. Guard Edson Velasquez added 13 points for the Saxons.
Whittier Christian will try to incorporate a portion of this afternoon’s gameplan when it goes back into league play at home against Valley Christian, Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“We expect to see some zone against Valley as well, so fine-tuning the zone offense was something we really need to focus on come Friday night,” Durham said. “They like to pressure and they’re pretty young, but they have some talent. When you play Valley though, you throw out all the records and all scouting reports because they’re our rival. We just take it one game at a time. If we focus too much on the fact that it’s Valley, we’ll come out flat and over-anxious to play the game.”