Sports

Whittier Christian basketball can’t find shooter’s touch against Village Christian

Ryan Esslinger led the Heralds with 12 points in a 61-30 loss to Village Christian at home, Thursday night.
Ryan Esslinger led the Heralds with 12 points in a 61-30 loss to Village Christian at home, Thursday night.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

After holding a potent Village Christian offense to just 18 points in the first half, the Whittier Christian boys’ basketball team couldn’t contain leading scorer Bennie Boatwright and the Crusaders in the second half in a 61-30 loss, Thursday night at Whittier Christian High.

Boatwright, a 6-foot-9 forward, torched the Heralds for 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and the Crusaders’ full-court pressure defense forced the Heralds to play at Village Christian’s up-tempo style.

With Village Christian (21-4, 8-0) dictating the pace, the Heralds struggled from the floor, hitting 11 of 49 shots in the game.

The Heralds (16-9, 4-4) also struggled without guard Kaipo Villeza, who left the game in the third quarter after being hit in the head while coming down with a rebound.

“We just couldn’t get anything going in the second half and once we lost Kaipo, we had to go with a lineup we hadn’t gone with all year,” said Sherwin Durham, Heralds head coach. “Because of that, we had no court spacing and we just weren’t able to get any points. We scored 13 points in the second half and that won’t win you too many ball games.”

Because of the switch, Durham tried putting all four of the Heralds’ forwards on the floor at the same time. However, the switch slowed down the offense and the big men struggled to find inside shots against Village Christian’s matched size.

Still, despite the shooting woes, Whittier Christian’s defense was just as strong early on and Ryan Esslinger hit a buzzer-beating half-court shot at the end of the first half to shrink the Crusaders lead to 18-17 at halftime.

Part of the Heralds’ success on defense was due to the rebounding of Stephen Nolin, who came up with five first-quarter rebounds to prevent any second chance opportunities.

“We just wanted to keep them in front of us and make them shoot over the top of us,” Durham said of the defensive strategy. “I thought we did a good job getting a hand up in their face, especially with Boatwright. We wanted to make him put it on the floor because he’s a catch-and-shoot guy.”

In the second quarter, Village Christian’s only field goals were scored on 3-pointers by Boatwright and Matt Shashaty.

However, in the second half, Boatwright found space and, in turn, found his shot, scoring 11 points in the third quarter as the Crusaders broke away for a 41-28 lead heading into the final quarter.

“Once the game started getting out of hand, the floor started opening up for him and he knocked down shots,” Durham said. “To that point, I thought we did a decent job. He’s definitely a pure shooter and once they started getting him in transition, he got into a rhythm and he’s tough to guard.”

Nothing was easy for the Heralds in the fourth quarter. Boatwright erupted for eight more points in the fourth quarter and hit two of his five 3-pointers in the process.

Village Christian guard Jerrick Ahanmisi provided support for the Crusaders with 10 points, including a 3-pointer late in the first quarter that tied the score at 6-6 heading into the second quarter.

Forward Marsalis Johnson scored eight of his 10 points in the second half.

Ryan Esslinger led the Heralds with 12 points, scoring five points in each of the second and third quarters on 5 of 9 shooting

However, forward Jake Rivera had a rough night from the floor and finished with five points, while Shawn Stolt added seven points and seven rebounds.

Before the game, the Heralds were already locked into the No. 3 seed out of the Olympic League. Whittier Christian will find out its playoff fate when the CIF-SS Division 4A pairings are released Sunday afternoon.

“Every year, we break it up into three seasons, the preseason, the league season and the playoffs,” Durham said. “Now we know that the next time we lose, we’re done. It’s a one-game-at-a-time situation and I think the kids will be up to the challenge.”

Sydney Lopez finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds in a 37-26 loss to Village Christian at home, Thursday night.
Sydney Lopez finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds in a 37-26 loss to Village Christian at home, Thursday night.

GIRLS VARSITY

With a chance to clinch the No. 2 seed out of the Olympic League, the Whittier Christian girls basketball team struggled to hang on to the ball in the second half, falling 37-26 to Village Christian, Thursday night at home.

The result of the game forced a three-way tie for second place in the Olympic League, as Valley Christian also has a 4-4 league record.

Coin flips determined that Village Christian will be the No. 2 representative, while Whittier Christian and Valley Christian will battle in a tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed, Friday at 5 p.m. at Valley Christian High.

On Thursday night, the Lady Heralds (13-11, 4-4) struggled from the floor early, then struggled with turnovers in the second half.

The Lady Heralds also lost senior guard Priscilla Zamorano to what appeared to be a left knee injury after she was bumped while attempting to stop a drive in the second quarter.

While Whittier Christian kept it close in the first quarter, Village Christian’s Hadiqa Nayani took over in the second quarter by scoring all 13 of the Lady Crusaders’ points – including 8 of 8 from the free-throw line – as Village Christian took a 22-12 lead at halftime.

But the Lady Heralds came out fired up to start the third quarter and quickly reduced the gap to 25-22 thanks to a pair of baskets by Sydney Lopez and a big shot by Tammy Adereti.

However, the Lady Heralds went cold from the floor after that point, making just one field goal and a pair of free throws as Nayani and guard Hhala Aboul-Hosn lifted Village Christian (11-15, 4-4) to the win.

Nayani scored a game-high 17 points for the Lady Crusaders.

Lopez finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds for Whittier Christian.

The Lady Heralds will match up with Valley Christian one final time on Friday at Valley Christian. The team’s split the season series 1-1, with the road team winning both games.

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