Raiders win in comeback fashion against Arlington in quarterfinals
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
RIVERSIDE – Traveling for the second time in four days, the Sonora boys’ basketball team persevered in a tough environment, leading to a narrow 49-46 victory against Arlington in the quarterfinals of the CIF-SS Division 2A playoffs, Friday night at Arlington High.
After scoring the game’s first bucket, the Raiders found themselves trailing the Lions throughout the contest until a 3-pointer by Adam Marlow gave Sonora the lead back at 42-40 with 5:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The lead would remain slim until junior Ben Rico hit a crucial 3-pointer from the corner to give Sonora a 49-44 lead with 19.1 seconds remaining.
“It was a big shot, Josh [Rodriguez] found me in the corner, I’ve been cold the past couple games, but I wasn’t missing that one,” Rico said. “We knew [long road games] could be the case coming into the playoffs, we don’t let the drives faze us, we just come out ready to play our game. Today we came out a little flat, but we worked hard and got the win.”
Both teams exploited their opponents’ defenses. Early on, center Steven Murphy’s movement down low led to easy layups and he scored six points in the first quarter.
Arlington countered with sophomore guard Kayn Calhoun, who used his quickness to gain separation for a pair of 3-pointers and a driving layup.
However, the Lions had to alter their gameplan when Calhoun went down with a right leg injury late in the first quarter.
“It changed our gameplan quite a bit,” said Arlington Head Coach John Seydel of the injury. “The nice thing about Kayn is that he has nice speed with the ball to penetrate, but if he backs off, he can hit 3s, but that’s the game, things happen, it definitely changed the gameplan. I give [Sonora] all the credit for the comeback, I thought we played pretty well too.”
Still, Arlington fed off the home crowd and kept itself two steps ahead of the Raiders in a low-scoring second quarter. The Lions led 26-21 at halftime behind Kenshael Airrington’s 13 first-half points.
Sonora came out ready to play in the third quarter, starting with a rebound putback by Rico, which led to a three-point play.
“Tonight, I was trying to be really calm [at halftime] because it seemed like they were frazzled,” Mike Murphy said. “I thought we came out and did a good job in the second half, but I liked our sets tonight, we kept getting layups early and that kept us in the game in the first half.”
However, Seydel would use Airrington to shield Murphy away from the ball-handler, forcing Sonora to make a choice to double -team him, or leave him in a favorable position in the post. Ultimately, it led to uncontested 3-pointers, of which Arlington made four in the quarter.
However, Sonora countered by driving in and finding Murphy who fought for five points in the quarter. The Raiders also hit clutch shots, including 3-pointers by Josh Rodriguez and Rico to tie up the ballgame at 37-37.
But the Lions shielded Murphy one more time, leading to a buzzer-beating shot by Brandon Jackson to take a 40-37 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“They’re very solid and have good quickness and we don’t have much size,” Seydel said. “Because of that, we try to make our opponents’ big men move, but I thought he did a pretty good job tonight. We try to make their bigs defend our pick-and-roll and it worked pretty well tonight.”
But as the Raiders have done before in tough environments, they pulled through late. Rhodes started the fourth quarter with a jump shot, followed by Marlow’s 3-pointer as Sonora regained the lead.
Josh Rodriguez followed with a jumper and Murphy put in a layup, but Airrington and Robert Garcia drove in for layups to decrease the deficit to two points, leading to an Arlington timeout.
After the break, Rodriguez found Rico in the corner, who buried the 3-pointer and all but sealed the come-from-behind victory for the Raiders.
“This was a tough team, a lot like a Sunny Hills or a Canyon,” Mike Murphy said. “Our schedule played a big part in this, we played those guys four times and that really prepared us for tonight. We’ve had a lot of ugly wins this year and as long as we have one more point in the end, we’re all right.”
Murphy and Rico led the Raiders with 13 points each, while Rodriguez added 12 points and Marlow led with eight rebounds.
Airrington led the Lions with 15 points, 13 of which came in the first half. Calhoun, who re-entered the game toward the end of the second quarter, scored eight of his 13 points in the first quarter.
Arlington finishes its season with a 19-10 record and has three starters returning next season.
“We had 10 losses, but when I look at those, I don’t see any bad losses, they were all against quality teams,” Seydel said. “That’s a credit to our kids for showing up and working together.”
Sonora (27-3) will host a semifinal game for the first time in Mike Murphy’s career at the school. The Raiders, who haven’t lost at home in two years, will face off against Oak Hills of Hesperia, Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
“We haven’t lost their in two years, so I think we’re looking good,” Rico said. “We’re really tough to beat at home, so it should be a fun game.”