May 17, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Cypress holds off Crean Lutheran challenge 63-47 for third straight league title

Christian Chai of Cypress heads toward the basket as Ben Abate of Crean Lutheran defends Friday night. (Photos: Fernando M. Donado, For OC Sports Zone)

Cypress High’s boys basketball team did it again.

The Centurions clinched a share of their third consecutive Empire League title, defeating Crean Lutheran 63-47 Friday night in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Crean Lutheran.

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

The Centurions (21-5, 8-0) won their 28th league game in a row over three seasons and notched their second victory over Crean Lutheran this year. It’s the fourth title in five years for Cypress.

“This clinches a share of the title, our boys have worked hard,” said Cypress Coach Derek Mitchell. “People have counted this group out because we lost so much last year. I’m just so happy for them. We still have two more and we’re trying to stay undefeated in league so they can get 30 in a row.

“This one means a lot. Nate (Crean Lutheran Coach Klitzing) is a great coach. He’s an up and coming coach and dealing with some difficulties. His grandmother passed away, so our condolences to him. But it’s always good to beat a team that’s bigger than you and go out and be competitive. Our guys were locked in. Number two (Drew Yezbak) scored 32 on us last time so our goal was to push him back. He was on in the first but after that, his legs wore out a little bit.”

Christian Chai scored 23 points, Eddie Spencer had 19 points and Elijah Vaielua scored 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead Cypress.

“We’ve been working hard, all summer, all fall to condition ourselves for this moment,” Chai said. “We came into this game, not cocky, but we just played our game and we sticked to the plan and that’s why we came up with the victory.”

Josh Shin scored 18 points to lead Crean Lutheran (15-9, 6-2). Michael Birket added 10 points and Yezbak eight points, five in the first half. Crean Lutheran’s 6-11 center James Agany was held scoreless but grabbed 12 rebounds and had three blocked shots.

The Saints started out strong, jumping to a 13-10 lead after one quarter and extending the margin to seven at one points.

But Cypress finisherd strong in the second quarter outscoring Crean Lutheran 18-8 and held a 28-21 lead at halftime.

Cypress held a 44-29 lead going into the final quarter but Crean Lutheran got back into the game with an 8-0 run sending its home fans into a frenzy. A 3-pointer by Parker Tuttle cut the lead to 44-37 with 6:21 remaining, but Cypress was able to regain control and seal the victory.

“It was a tough one for us,” said Klitzing, the Saints coach. “It sometimes comes down to making plays and I felt like Cypress beat us to the punch. They played with a lot of tenacity tonight and there were times where a ball would be loose and they would come up with it and make those plays. You got to give them credit for.

“Give credit to them, they played really well. It’s tough, it’s senior night, there is a lot of emotion. I feel like we were kind of rushing things a little bit and that’s one of the reasons why I don’t think we shot particularly well tonight. But that’s part of it. We have a youthful side, we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores that our playing and it’s great experience for them because they’re going to be in a lot of big games like this.”

Klitzing was taking a flight to St. Louis right after the game to be with his family to pay tribute to his grand-mother.

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com