by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
SUN VALLEY – Leaving everything on the floor, the Whittier Christian boys’ basketball team nearly shocked the Olympic League, but fell to a favored Village Christian team 65-58, Tuesday night at Village Christian School.
The Heralds used quick ball movement to open up the floor offensively and stuck to its game plan of using the high-low post game to keep the pressure on the Crusaders throughout.
“We really talked about shocking the world today,” said Sherwin Durham, Whittier Christian head coach. “Just a couple little mistakes here and there did us in, but I love my guys, they gave us the effort and they gave them all they wanted tonight. Our system is working for us, hopefully it’s uphill from here.”
Down by double-digits in the second and third quarters, the Heralds fought back and reduced the deficit to as low as three points after Jake Rivera hit a 3-pointer and subsequent free throw with 1:29 remaining in the game.
After a pair of free throws put the Crusaders back up by five points, Ryan Esslinger’s 3-point attempt rimmed out and Village Christian escaped with the victory.
Sophomore guard Christian Labadie led the Heralds with 17 points and was fearless on offense, constantly driving in for acrobatic layups despite a major size disadvantage.
Rivera added 11 points and forward Jimmy West came off the bench to put up nine points, seven of which were scored on long jumpers.
“He was pumped for the game, I kind of looked at my guys’ eyes before the game to see if there was any fear in there and I didn’t see any, and he came out with the effort and it trickled down to everybody else,” Durham said of Labadie. “As far as the acrobatic shots, we’ll take that as a sophomore, but we’re hoping they’ll be stronger during his junior and senior seasons.”
However, the Crusaders (16-3, 4-0) retaliated with Bear Henderson and Bennie Boatwright, who put up 19 and 17 points respectively.
Forward Marsalis Johnson, who put up a triple-double against the Heralds last year at VCS, scored just nine points and fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“We had Johnson in foul trouble early, so we wanted to bring him out a little bit and if he was down low, work against him,” Durham said. “We wanted to take one of their big guys away from them and make their coach go to the bench. Our defense is the strong suit of our team this year, when we need stops we’re able to get them.”
Labadie set the tone early for the Heralds, scoring seven of the team’s 13 first quarter points as Whittier Christian trailed 16-13 at the end of the first quarter.
Behind Boatwright’s 3-point shooting, the Crusaders pushed the lead to 32-16 midway through the second quarter.
However, West led a Heralds charge late in the half with seven points, including a 3-pointer. Rivera added four points in the quarter as Whittier Christian reduced the deficit to 34-26 at halftime.
“When the high post is able to knock down shots, it opens up things down low,” Durham said. “That’s been working for us a lot lately. We aren’t content with the loss, but we are content with the effort.”
The Crusaders again pushed the lead to double digits behind Henderson’s five third quarter points.
But the Heralds (13-7, 2-2) saved the best for the final quarter. Whittier Christian reduced the deficit to six points with five minutes remaining. Shawn Stolt found room inside for four points, while Labadie continued to carve through the defense for four more.
Then after Johnson’s fifth foul, a technical foul was called against Village Christian coach Jon Shaw, which led to three made free throws and possession.
Later in the quarter, Rivera’s four-point play pushed the Heralds to its smallest deficit at 61-58 before guard Jerrick Ahanmisi hit two free throws and Matt Shashaty hit a layup at the buzzer.
Ryan Esslinger scored six of his eight points in the fourth quarter and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
The Heralds came into the contest as winners of nine of their last 11 games. Durham hopes that the result will prove to his team that they can compete with anyone in the league moving forward.
Whittier Christian hosts Heritage Christian, Friday night at 7:30 p.m. The Heralds defeated Heritage Christian 57-54 on the road, Jan. 16.
“I think we’ve got respect, we’re just going to keep taking it one game at a time,” Durham said. “I think my guys need a little rest, so we’ll go light and then really start preparing on Thursday. We still want to perfect that high-low game because I think we’ll see a little more zone. They also have a big man, so we’ll see if we can get him in foul trouble and make them work the bench.”