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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
LOS ALAMITOS-All season long, the Gahr High boys basketball team was running with the big boys in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section’s Division 1AA. The co-champions of the San Gabriel Valley League even received a first round bye when the playoffs began on Feb. 15.
But Gahr’s second round opponent, Los Alamitos High, also received a first round bye and with both teams well rested, it was only fitting that this tilt would go down to the end. Despite trailing by 12 points early in the second half before taking a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Gladiators came up a few inches short and lost to the Griffins 63-61 last Friday night.
After both teams combined to call three timeouts with 1.7 seconds remaining, senior Tony Crosby inbounded the ball to junior Gary Williams, whose three-point attempt hit the front end on the iron.
“We played a great third quarter,” said Gahr head coach Ricky Roper. “It was a good game. It just didn’t go our way. [Williams] had a good game. That shot almost went down at the buzzer.”
The Gladiators got out to a fast start as Crosby and junior Jarrel King each scored off of offensive rebounds as part of an early 8-3 advantage. But the co-champions of the Sunset League went on a 15-3 run over the final 5:47 of the quarter. Los Alamitos increased its lead to 11 points twice in the second quarter and led 44-32 two minutes into the second half before Gahr made its comeback.
Senior Marvin Bragg scored eight points in the third quarter and a three-pointer from Williams late in the stanza put the visitors up 49-48. The momentum continued in the early moments of the fourth quarter as Williams scored on consecutive baskets to make it a 54-51 contest.
Los Alamitos quickly tied the game and both teams went back and forth until another Williams three-pointer tied the game at 61-61 with 2:26 remaining. Following a Los Alamitos timeout, Hayden Smith scored the game winner with four seconds remaining. Then after a Gahr timeout, Bragg took a pass from Williams which was knocked out of bounds before the aforementioned three straight timeouts were called.
“We just picked up our energy,” Roper said of the third quarter. “I knew any game we could win, we could lose. That’s how it goes.”
Williams led the Gladiators with 22 points and had five rebounds while Bragg added 16 points and seven boards. Senior Julio Maldonado also had a solid game, grabbing seven rebounds and scoring six points. Gahr finishes the season at 18-10, a two-game improvement from last year, but another second round exit. The Gladiators also won at least 18 games for the second time in three seasons and the eighth time since the 2006-2007 campaign.
“It was a good year,” Roper said. “We were co-league champs and tonight, it was unfortunate.”
The game also marked the end for Bragg and four other seniors. Bragg was the team’s leading scorer and hit the 20-point plateau 14 times this season.
“He had a great career and won a league title two out of three years,” Roper said. “Sorry to see it end.”