by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Early in the second quarter of its quarterfinal matchup in the CIF State South Regional playoffs, the Sonora basketball team had executed its way to a nine-point lead over No. 1 St. John Bosco thanks to a quick start by its two leading scorers, which forced the Braves to take a timeout.
Unfortunately, the Braves came storming back with a 21-4 run to close out the half and shooting guard Jesus Zesati torched Sonora with 17 points in the third quarter as St. John Bosco ended the Raiders’ season with a 94-67 win, Saturday night at St. John Bosco High.
Zesati’s efforts helped the Braves turn an eight-point halftime lead into a 22-point advantage at the end of the third quarter and St. John Bosco cruised to the quarterfinal win in from there.
“Our game plan was not to guard [Zesati], we were going to take Steven [Murphy] and play him in the middle because we figured they would post up on our little guards, which they did,” said Mike Murphy, Sonora head coach. “Then [Zesati] goes off and hits five 3-pointers on us and that was the difference. When he hit those shots, it changed us up and we didn’t react well to it. That’s a hard team to guard.”
However, early in the contest, it was Sonora that put the pressure on, maintaining a slim lead after the first quarter and building upon it with long-range shooting to start the second quarter.
Guards Josh Rodriguez and Ben Rico combined for six 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes and accounted for 28 of Sonora’s 30 points before Braves’ coach Derrick Taylor called timeout with 5:55 remaining in the first half.
“We had nothing to lose coming into this game, we thought we could beat them,” Rico said. “We came into this game with a lot of confidence and we played hard, it just wasn’t enough. They’re a great team, we gave it all we had, it just didn’t go our way tonight.”
The timeout reenergized St. John Bosco (20-11), which matched Rodriguez and Rico’s long distance shots with seven 3-pointers of its own in the second quarter alone.
Guard Tyler Dorsey and forward Vance Jackson helped the Braves pull even before Zesati drained two 3-pointers late in the quarter to give St. John Bosco a 42-34 lead at the break.
“We just wanted to slow them down, not take wild shots and we wanted to take advantage of our size and quickness,” Taylor said. “We just wanted to slow things down. We knew we could score, but we didn’t give ourselves a chance by jacking up long shots. In the second half, we played really well.”
Senior forward Daniel Hamilton also had an efficient first half for the Braves, leading the team with 15 points. He and Zesati led the team with 23 points each.
Hamilton also came down with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Focusing on Hamilton, Dorsey and Jackson in the third quarter, the Raiders left Zesati alone and the junior forward made them pay.
“Our game plan was to take away their best players, like Dorsey and Hamilton, but the other guys stepped up big time,” said Adam Marlow, senior leader.
Zesati hit three 3-pointers and added a pair of three-point plays when he was fouled on two layups.
The Raiders could not match the performance as shots began to miss their mark.
“Early on, we played like we could play, we were driving, kicking and guys were hitting their shots,” Murphy said. “As the game progressed, we got away from that, we took some bad shots and then we just couldn’t stop them.”
Rodriguez added nine of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, but the St. John Bosco lead was insurmountable and the Braves earned a spot in the Division 2 South Regional semifinals.
“I thought there were times where Josh was the best player on the floor,” Murphy said. “He was the guy out there scoring, stealing and making plays. When he has a smile on his face, you know he’s playing well.”
Rico finished with 22 points, while Adam Marlow contributed with nine assists.
Sonora finishes the season with a 29-5 record and the program reached the CIF-SS Finals and the CIF State Championships for the first time in over 30 years.
“It’s pretty great and I’m really proud of this team, I can always look back and say that this was my senior year that we accomplished this,” Marlow said. “I’m pretty proud as a senior and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
The Raiders will lose six seniors to graduation after this season, most notably Marlow and Roy Saucedo, but will return three every day starters and one spot starter for next season.
In addition, Murphy has a fifth player in Jason McClung who earned plenty of experience this season and also shared plenty of excitement over the underclassmen coming in next season.
“They have a different style of athlete than we do and that’s going to make it tough for anyone who makes it this far,” Murphy said of St. John Bosco. “We’re going to get better, we have some size next year and we have a really good group coming up from the JV team, which was a 10-0 team. It’s exciting.”