Maranatha completes season sweep of Whittier Christian basketball
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
PASADENA – Despite executing its defensive game plan, the Whittier Christian boys’ basketball team fell short against Maranatha, 45-38, in a game that was up for grabs throughout, Tuesday night at Maranatha High.
The teams traded for the lead in each quarter, but Minutemen forward Nick Springer broke a 38-38 tie late in the fourth quarter with a layup.
After two free throws by forward Muusa Dama, guard Brandon Guillory stole a pass on the perimeter and took it the other way for a layup to extend the lead to six points with 44 seconds left and the Heralds couldn’t respond.
“We can always look back at a few things, we didn’t do well at the free throw line tonight,” said Sherwin Durham, Whittier Christian head coach. “We didn’t hit a bucket when we needed it and didn’t get key stops when we needed them. It’s a tough one to take, especially with how well we played for the majority of the game.”
At the free throw line, the Heralds made five-of-13 attempts.
The Heralds (15-8, 3-3) had to battle most of the second half without sophomore guard Christian Alvis-Labadie, who Durham believes suffered a dislocated shoulder while attempting a steal just 1:26 into the third quarter.
Durham said a trainer popped the shoulder back into socket, but the severity of the injury is unknown, as well as his timetable to return.
“He said he dislocated it, but [the trainer] popped it back in and said it would be best if he took a few days off,” Durham said. “It was either a couple days, or risk a couple weeks if he had played again. We made a decision not to put him back in to protect his health.”
In Alvis-Labadie’s place, Durham called on guard Reid Winans to fill an important role of guarding one of Maranatha’s two dangerous guards, which Winans executed well by holding the combination of Zachary Smalley and Xavius Boone to just four points in the second half.
The other guard was Tey Williams, who led the Minutemen with 15 points and did most of his damage while helping Maranatha (13-11, 5-1) overcome a deficit in the third quarter.
Williams also did a number in drawing fouls, as he attempted six free throws in the quarter.
“He made a difference in the first game as well, he was definitely a guy we were concerned about coming in,” Durham said of Williams. “He didn’t really get going in the first half, but made some key buckets in the second half. He’s a good player, hats off to them, they did a good job down the stretch and we just couldn’t get it done.”
Maranatha’s dominant third quarter evened out a very strong second quarter for the Heralds’ defense.
After falling behind 15-10 after the first quarter, Whittier Christian forced five turnovers in the second quarter and held the Minutemen to just two points as it took a 22-17 lead into halftime.
The Heralds took the lead with 3:11 remaining in the half when Alvis-Labadie hit a 3-pointer from the corner to break a 17-17 tie.
“We talked about transition, in the first game, they hurt us because their bigs run the floor well,” Durham said. “Tonight, we challenged our bigs to be able to get back and I thought they did a good job of that throughout the game. My kids came out and played hard, it’s just a hard one to take.”
Both teams took a few minutes to get going in the third quarter, but Maranatha regained its bearings first.
Springer started the quarter with a three-point play before Williams took over with a 3-pointer and four free throws.
Esslinger kept the Heralds close with five points in the third quarter. Kaipo Villeza added a 3-pointer and the Heralds trailed by three points heading into the fourth quarter.
“We need [Esslinger] to shoot the basketball and be more offensive-minded,” Durham said. “We look to him to shine as a senior leader, we thought he would be one of our top two scorers, but he’s been stepping up defensively, we may be asking too much of him to be able to do both.”
The Heralds continued to push in the fourth quarter and executed a pair of high-low post layups by Stephen Nolin to pull even before Maranatha’s 7-0 run to end the game.
Williams was the only player to score in double digits on the night. Ron Gore added nine points for the Minutemen.
Despite the injury, Alvis-Labadie led the Heralds with nine points. Esslinger and Nolin added eight points each, while Rivera hauled in a game-high 12 rebounds.
Whittier Christian will try to bounce back on Friday, when it hits the road to face off against league rival Valley Christian at 7:30 p.m.
“When you play [Valley Christian] you throw out all the stats, this is what it’s all about,” Durham said. “These kids know how big it is to go over there and try to knock them off and get back on the winning side of things as we try to make a playoff run.”
Going into its road game against Maranatha, the Whittier Christian girls basketball team was determined not to let center Channon Fluker’s size dictate the game.
To combat the 6-foot-4 inside presence, Head Coach Grace Ricafranca double-teamed her in the post, only breaking if a shooter was in the corner.
The move slowed Fluker in the half-court offense, but it didn’t keep her from scoring 16 points, most of which came after offensive rebounds as Maranatha defeated Whittier Christian 61-38, Tuesday night at Maranatha High.
In addition, the Lady Heralds weren’t rotating quickly enough to account for Maranatha’s shooters, including guard Kei’lani Ando, who added 13 points for the Lady Minutemen.
“We wanted to double-team [Fluker], definitely, but our defense wasn’t rotating fast enough as far as a girl coming in off the inbound or popping over to the corner,” said Grace Ricafranca, Whittier Christian head coach. “We wanted to stop her, but we lost focus of all the other girls that were playing. We took a step back a little bit, but I thought we played well defensively in the first half. We just didn’t come out with the same intensity in the second half.”
Offensively, the Lady Heralds struggled inside due to Fluker’s reach, which made it tough to get Sydney Lopez going in the post.
The senior forward led the Lady Heralds in scoring with 17 points, but was held to just five rebounds, snapping a streak of six consecutive double-doubles.
In addition to Fluker inside, the Lady Minutemen (18-6, 6-0) used a full court press, which made Whittier Christian uncomfortable.
The Lady Heralds (12-10, 3-3) tried to speed up the offense, which led to turnovers, most of which came in a third quarter in which Maranatha outscored the Lady Heralds 20-5.
“They were pressuring us, but I think it was a mix of us being a little nervous and excited at the same time,” Ricafranca said. “They were getting hyped up before the game, so I think maybe the nerves and the excitement got to them because we struggled to get into an offensive flow.”
Down 50-23 to start the fourth quarter, the Lady Heralds clawed back a bit until guard Hope Peron hit a pair of jumpers and Ando nailed a 3-pointer.
Christa Evans scored nine of her 12 points in the fourth quarter while Fluker was on the bench for Maranatha. She also led the team with seven rebounds.
After Hannah Yoshihara hit a 3-pointer to start the game, Maranatha scored a 7-0 run and led from that point on.
Whittier Christian will look to turn things around when it faces off against Valley Christian, Friday night at 6 p.m. at Valley Christian High.
“I just want to see us keep fighting,” Ricafranca said. “We beat [Valley Christian] twice early this year, so I think they were hungry and I don’t think we were ready for that when we saw them for the first time in league. With a loss like this, we want to come back with high energy. I think we’ve been really passive with swinging the ball along the outside, but hopefully with Valley, we’ll be more aggressive.”