Whittier Christian basketball teams earn sweep behind strong second halves
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
When Whittier Christian traveled to North Hills to take on Heritage Christian earlier this month, the Heralds had to contend with outside shooting and a late surge, but hung on for a close win.
Friday night at Whittier Christian, the Heralds had their hands full with a completely different problem in Samson Young.
The Warriors’ 6-foot-8 forward pounded the Heralds interior for 26 points, but Whittier Christian fought back in the second half to take a 55-51 come-from-behind win.
“We had to go to a front, but even with that he was still effective,” said Sherwin Durham, Whittier Christian head coach. “In the first game, he got in foul trouble, but he stayed out of it tonight. He got his game going early, so we tried to front him and take away some of his touches with some back side help.”
The Heralds’ head coach knows that his four big men have 20 fouls to give and usually isn’t too concerned if one of them gets into trouble.
However, of those 20 fouls, 11 were called against Whittier Christian’s big men as they attempted to slow down Young. He attempted 16 free throws, sinking 10 of them.
Young’s 15 first-half points helped the Warriors build a 29-21 lead at halftime.
But the Heralds (14-7, 3-2) made defensive adjustments in the second half and chipped away on offense. Jake Rivera scored eight of his team-high 15 points in the third quarter as the Heralds moved the ball more efficiently and cut the deficit to two points heading into the fourth quarter.
“All year, we talk about our defense triggering our offense, we made some stops and limited them in that quarter,” Durham said. “We felt that if we got some stops defensively and got [Rivera] some touches to get him going early, he’d deliver for us and he did that.”
That deficit was erased quickly when Christian Alvis-Labadie drove the lane for a tough layup to tie the score at 40-40.
After a free throw by Heritage Christian’s Michael Brandon, Kaipo Villeza hit a runner to give the Heralds a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Shawn Stolt padded the lead with a putback after Villeza punched the ball to him in the paint off a missed shot. The Heralds sealed the win with free throws by Ryan Esslinger, Villeza and Alvis-Labadie, who combined to go 8-for-8 from the line in the final quarter.
“We were still looking to stress the defense, we picked up the full court pressure and forced some turnovers,” Durham said. “The big play was Kaipo deflecting the offensive rebound and keeping it alive for Shawn. That got the crowd going and gave us momentum.”
The Heralds came out fluid on offense. Fighting against Young, Stolt found space in the low post and worked in six points on turn-around jumpers in the first quarter.
Alvis-Labadie added five points and Rivera added four points as the Heralds took a 17-14 lead.
Still, Durham felt like something was missing.
“I really didn’t like our focus, I think kids were elsewhere when we first started,” Durham said.
The Warriors’ clear intention was to get the ball inside to Young and let him work. In the second quarter, he put Stephen Nolin in foul trouble en route to scoring eight points.
Senior guard Timothy Brandon hit a 3-pointer and younger brother Michael Brandon added a jumper and the Warriors (6-15, 0-5) took advantage of a Whittier Christian cold streak, outscoring the Heralds 13-4 before the half.
“We kind of got away from what we’ve been doing well, which is share the basketball,” Durham said. “We started going back to individual play and at halftime it wasn’t pretty in the locker room. We decided that we got ourselves here and we have to try and find our way out of it.”
The Heralds’ defense held Heritage Christian to nine points in the third quarter, which gave the offense a momentum that carried over into the fourth quarter.
Four Heralds scored in double digits. Stolt finished with 12 points, while Alvis-Labadie and Villeza added 11 points each.
Timothy Brandon and Michael Brandon added eight and seven points for the Warriors.
Whittier Christian will break away from the Olympic League for a brief moment to host Ontario Christian in a nonleague game tomorrow at 6 p.m.
On Tuesday, the Heralds have an important league matchup on the road at Marana
tha. The Minutemen defeated Whittier Christian 64-51 in the teams’ Olympic League opener, Jan. 14.
“They have a few extra feet on their court, it’s a college court, so we’re going to have to be in transition and get back on defense,” Durham said. “If we can do that, then I like our chances.”
After enduring one of her worst shooting nights a week ago, senior guard Hannah Yoshihara continued to bounce back nicely for the Whittier Christian girls’ basketball team in its 49-36 win over Heritage Christian, Friday night at Whittier Christian High.
Since going 0-for-14 from the floor in a loss to Valley Christian last Friday, Yoshihara has put together back-to-back double digit scoring efforts. Her 13 first-half points helped Whittier Christian keep a 26-20 halftime lead over the Lady Warriors.
“After that game against Valley, she was really upset about the performance, so I think she’s been playing with a chip on her shoulder,” said Grace Ricafranca, Whittier Christian head coach. “She’s been determined to provide offense for our team and we know that without her, we won’t get the wins that we need. We’re trying to feed her the ball as much as possible to keep us going offensively.”
The senior guard finished with 15 points and led the team at the break with forward Sydney Lopez in foul trouble.
Lopez led the team with 17 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. After Yoshihara led the team in the first half, Lopez made her presence felt late, scoring 11 points over the final two quarters.
Defensively, the Lady Heralds (12-8, 3-2) made adjustments around the perimeter, holding Heritage Christian to just two 3-pointers, a significant improvement from the nine 3-pointers the team allowed at Heritage Christian, Jan. 17.
“We definitely wanted to man them up, last time they were swinging the ball really well,” Ricafranca said. “We wanted to make sure we were there for every switch, every open shot they had along the arc and I thought our man defense did a lot better against them today.”
Without the outside shots falling, Heritage Christian (5-17, 0-5) became stagnant in the second half as the Lady Heralds forced key turnovers.
Late in the third quarter, Sydney Lopez intercepted a Heritage Christian pass, drove the length of the court and laid it in with the left hand as she was fouled. The ensuing free throw opened up a 40-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
She added six points and six rebounds in the final quarter as the Lady Heralds cruised to their second consecutive win.
“We definitely have momentum right now, we’re still riding the momentum of that [double-overtime win against Village Christian],” Ricafranca said. “We’re a little hungry for it and we want to come back strong in the second half of league and beat Valley and Maranatha. We’re looking to improve each game.”
Along with Yoshihara’s shooting, Whittier Christian worked the high-low post well in the first half. Twice in the second quarter, Lopez got the ball in the high post, which drew an extra defender and left fellow forward Megan Kleber wide open under the basket.
Lopez recognized the switch and dished out two of her four assists.
However, led by guard Sabrina Zarifi, the Lady Warriors chipped away at the lead in the second quarter, reducing the deficit to three points on two separate occasions.
Yoshihara took care of the pressure with two late 3-pointers as the Lady Heralds went into halftime up 26-20.
Whittier Christian ran away with it in the second half.
“I don’t know exactly what it is,” Ricafranca said of her team’s ability to take control in the second half. “The game plan every game is to start strong and play aggressively, but something just snaps in the second half. If I could get them to do that in the first half, the rest of the season would be a bit easier.”
Zarifi led the Lady Warriors with 13 points. Liana Minassian, who burned the Lady Heralds with four 3-pointers in the first matchup, was held to two the second time around and finished with 11 points.
Whittier Christian will face Ontario Christian for the second time this season when the teams meet up tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.
Following the nonleague contest, Whittier Christian faces Maranatha and 6-foot-4 Channon Fluker on the road, Tuesday night.
“We have some game plans defensively that will hopefully help to contain her,” Ricafranca said. “We’re going to make it more difficult for her to get shots and try to make her uncomfortable. Hopefully it will transition into our offense. I anticipate it being a great game.”