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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
DOWNEY-With four games remaining in the regular season heading into its road game at Calvary Chapel Downey High last Thursday night, the Whitney High boys basketball team knew that there was very little wiggle room as far as its postseason chances were concerned. The Wildcats needed a win in the worst way against a team below them in the Academy League standings.
Whitney rose up to the challenge and rallied in the final minutes to escape with a 60-53 win over the Grizzlies, scoring the final nine points of the game.
“At first I thought we were okay,” said Whitney first-year head coach Wade Morris. “And then, it’s their senior night and they started fighting. So I had to get involved emotionally and it seemed like most of the calls were going their way. We weren’t getting any calls. We just had to get after it emotionally.”
Despite a high volume of shots not going in early (five of 21 from the field in the first quarter), the Wildcats were able to lead 15-5 in the opening seconds of the second quarter. Part of the reason can be attributed to the strong effort on both sides of the glass as Whitney grabbed 14 rebounds in the first quarter, eight on the offensive end. Senior Peter Kang would have half of those offensive boards and finished the game with eight in the game.
But Calvary Chapel Downey would slowly work its way back in the game and outscored the ‘Cats by one in the second quarter. Whitney would open another 10-point lead, this time with 6:23 remaining in the third quarter before the hosts reeled off nine straight points in less than three minutes. It was at that point that Morris would sum it all up in one word.
“Energy,” Morris said. “That’s why I stuck in energy guys. I stuck in energy guys and they couldn’t do it. So then I stuck in my five that always play together and just got on their behinds and said, ‘let’s go’. That did the trick.”
The Grizzlies took their first lead with 90 seconds remaining in the stanza on a basket from Jose Campos and the teams would trade baskets for most of the fourth quarter. A three-pointer from Campos opened up the fourth quarter and gave Calvary Chapel Downey their largest lead of the game at 39-36.
Probably the biggest play of the game came 91 seconds into the fourth quarter when junior Daniel Sou had his fourth steal and scored to give Whitney a 41-39 lead. That came 16 seconds after hitting a three-pointer. Later in the quarter, his second downtown shot of the stanza (third in the game) ties the game at 51-51.
The game was finally sealed with 13.8 seconds remaining when junior Heaven Flores had a steal, scored, was fouled and hit the subsequent free throw to put the ‘Cats up 57-53. He then scored the next three points on free throws to finish with 17, his most since scoring 20 against Brethren Christian High back on Jan.6.
“Heaven is incredible,” Morris said. “He was upset because he wasn’t getting any calls and I say, ‘hey, just tough it out’. He listened and he toughed it out. This guy’s courage going to the basketball is incredible.”
Senior Ben Barnett added 12 points and had six rebounds while Sou finished with 11 points. At the time of the win, Whitney had evened its overall mark at 13-13 and was 4-5 in league play and Morris was confident his team could upset either Crean Lutheran High last Saturday, Sage Hill High this past Tuesday or Oxford Academy on Feb. 9
“Hope is eternal,” Morris said. “So, I believe that we can win two out of three games. We have to play perfect against Crean [Lutheran]. We have to play perfect against Sage [Hill] and against Oxford. But I believe these guys can do it. They can get it done.”
Unfortunately, the ‘Cats fell to the first two teams and needed to beat their arch rivals from Cypress just to tie Oxford Academy for fourth place. Either way, this season has been an improvement over last season when Whitney was 8-12 overall, 3-9 in the circuit and finished in fifth place.
Prior to the game, the Whitney girls basketball team, one of four teams in a scramble to finish anywhere from second to fifth place, came up short in a 31-25 decision. Both teams combined for two field goals in 16 attempts in the first quarter with Whitney leading 3-2.
But the Lady Wildcats were outscored 12-1 in the second quarter and never recovered. A three-pointer from senior Nicole Lee drew the visitors to within three points (25-22) with 6:20 left in the game. Two minutes later, sophomore Christine Hamakawa scored to make it a one-point game. But Whitney was held scoreless the final 3:07 of the game.
Sophomore Justine Wu led Whitney with eight points while Hamakawa and Lee each added seven points. Hamakawa and sophomore Kiana Sanchez each grabbed six rebounds.
Whitney would go on to defeat Crean Lutheran 57-46 last Saturday night on the road before falling to Sage Hill at home 38-28 this past Tuesday night. Entering its Feb. 10 game against Oxford Academy, Whitney (13-10, 6-5) was sitting in a fourth place tie with Calvary Chapel Downey, one game behind Sage Hill.
In other basketball action, the last day of the regular season, which was Feb. 9, provided some drama with the other area teams as far as who would be advancing to next week’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs. The Cerritos boys have locked up third place in the Suburban League while Artesia High and Norwalk High here tied for fourth place with identical 5-6 marks. Artesia (14-11 overall) hosted sixth place Bellflower High while Norwalk (11-14) was home to second place La Mirada High.
Gahr (18-8) visited Dominguez High with the San Gabriel Valley League title at stake. The Gladiators have won all nine league game while Dominguez was sitting one game behind. Valley Christian High picked up a 63-55 win over Whittier Christian High this past Tuesday to improve to 14-11 overall and 3-4 in the Olympic League. The win assured the Crusaders of no worse than third pace as they visited co-league leaders Heritage Christian High on Feb. 9.
The Norwalk girls basketball entered its Feb. 9 home game tied for fourth place in the Suburban League with the team it is hosting La Mirada. The Lady Lancers are 10-13 overall and 4-7 in league action.
Valley Christian has lost three of its last four games but the Lady Crusaders can still claim a share of the Olympic League title if they beat fourth place Heritage Christian on Feb. 9 and Village Christian High loses its final regular season contest. Valley Christian is 18-6 overall and 5-2 in league action.
The Norwalk and Valley Christian boys teams are in position to win the Suburban and Olympic league titles respectively. Norwalk (13-5-1 overall) blanked Bellflower 2-0 last Friday to catch the Buccaneers at the top of the league. Both are 8-3 in the circuit with Norwalk having visited La Mirada on Feb. 9 while Bellflower travelled to fifth place Artesia.
Valley Christian beat Whittier Christian 3-1 this past Wednesday night to improve to 11-6-2 overall and 5-0-2 in league. V.C. has not lost since Dec. 16, a stretch of nine games.
The V.C. girls soccer team captured another league crown by virtue of a 3-0 win at Whittier Christian this past Wednesday. The Lady Crusaders (15-3-3 overall) won their seventh straight game and 12th in their past 14 games. Like the boys, the Lady Crusaders haven’t lost since Dec. 16.
Cerritos will claim no worse than fourth place in the Suburban League and is coming off a 2-1 overtime win against Mayfair this past Tuesday. The Lady Dons are 13-6-1 overall and 6-5 in league play with a makeup game against La Mirada still pending.