Raiders run cold late, fall in Division 2A Championship game
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by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
ANAHEIM – Undersized in comparison to its opponent, the Sonora boys’ basketball team fought hard, but went cold from the floor late in falling to Calabasas 66-47 in the CIF-SS Division 2A Championship game, Saturday afternoon at Honda Center.
The Raiders hung tough through three quarters and shrunk their deficit to 44-41 early in the fourth quarter, but missed their next 14 shots and the Coyotes pulled away using their size inside on the other end.
“Against their size, it was really hard to get good shots,” said Ben Rico, who scored 12 points. “They played tough defense, it was definitely a factor today.”
Calabasas center Austin Smith scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while guard Conner Longmire scored 17 points and made two layups in the fourth quarter to counteract Sonora’s early-quarter comeback attempt.
The Coyotes (27-5) closed out the game with free throws, denying Sonora its first title in 30 years.
“We hadn’t seen them live, they’re more athletic than I thought,” Murphy said. “They’re extremely physical, really well coached, they’re probably the toughest team we faced this year.”
After falling behind early, Sonora (28-4) used the second and third quarters to march back.
In the third quarter, Josh Rodriguez led the Raiders and scored their first seven points of the quarter.
However, each time Sonora pulled close, Calabasas broke loose again. Smith scored seven points in the third quarter and Larry Bush added six of his 12 points as the Coyotes took a 42-35 lead into the fourth quarter. Bush also contributed with seven rebounds.
Rico began the fourth quarter with a pair of tough jump shots and a pair of free throws to pull Sonora within three points, but that was the closest Sonora would get.
“We just couldn’t score,” Murphy said of the drought. “When you can’t score, you try to extend the defense and create some baskets with our defense. Their guards are really good and they made us foul them at the end.”
In the first quarter, the combination of size and quickness helped Calabasas take an early lead.
While Justin Bessard battled inside for six points, Longmire hit a 3-pointer and completed another three-point play as the Coyotes led 20-12 after the first quarter.
“I thought our team did a tremendous job in this game,” said Jon Palarz, Calabasas head coach. “Our whole team did great in preparation and we played really well on defense, I couldn’t ask for anything more from our guys. Sonora’s a fantastic team and I feel very fortunate to [come away with the win].”
The Raiders quickly erased most of that deficit to start the second quarter, using Steven Murphy for tough baskets inside, the junior scored twice and was fouled on both plays, but made only one of his two free throws.
Halfway through the second quarter, a basket by Rodriguez shrunk the deficit to 24-22. Both defenses took over, altering shots as both teams struggled from the floor.
“I thought we were hurting them early with our drive-and-kick offense, we got some good looks,” Murphy said. “I thought Josh and Adam [Marlow] were able to get to the basket, but we couldn’t finish. We had a tough time finishing.”
A late basket by center Austin Smith gave Calabasas a 26-22 lead at halftime.
Rodriguez led Sonora with 14 points and five assists, while Rico added 12 points and 10 rebounds, but the Raiders shot 16-of-56 from the floor and 4-of-22 on 3-pointers.
Steven Murphy finished with seven points, while Marlow added five points.
Calabasas earned its second title in the last three years. The Coyotes won the CIF-SS 3AA Championship in 2012.
Despite the loss, the Raiders still qualified for the Division 2 South Regional playoffs with the No. 8 seed. Sonora will host Monache High of Porterville, Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Sonora High.
“We’re just ecstatic about getting a chance to play in State, we’ve never been to the State playoffs,” Murphy said. “We definitely didn’t want to end after this game, so we’ll see where we’re at in the bracket tomorrow and we’ll practice on Monday.”