June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Cypress Centurions capture hard-fought Empire League opener against Tustin

Michael Wright of Cypress is defended by Terrelle Morales of Tustin Friday night. (Photos: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Cypress High School’s boys basketball team used a balanced scoring attack and some solid defense to capture a 61-53 Empire League victory over Tustin Friday night at Tustin in the league opener.

It marked the final league game between the two teams at Tustin in what has become an intense rivalry. The two teams will be in different leagues next year.

Cypress had four players in double figures, led by Jonah Kim, who had 15 points. Ryan Gov had 13 points and King Birdsong and Michael Wright 12 points each for the Centurions.

“High intensity, very physical, both teams grind it out, it’s just the way we both play, we’re both physical, bodies are banging in the paint, nothing is easy on the outside, it was a low scoring game for us, but overall I think our guys grinded it out to get the W,” said Cypress Coach Derek Mitchell.

Cypress (12-5, 1-0) led 24-21 at halftime and built a 53-44 lead with 1:40 left in the game. But Tustin (11-8, 0-1) battled back to cut the lead to 54-51 when Johnny Villagrana converted a steal into a score with 34 seconds left.

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However, Gov and Kim made key free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Cypress outscored Tustin 23-13 in the final quarter.

Wright, who has been one of the Centurions standouts, sat out part of the first and second quarters after picking up two quick fouls. But he responded with nine second half points to help secure the win for Cypress.

“I think they did a good job on Mike, but I see him hit some big-time three’s and Ryan hit some big free throws at the end, there isn’t enough you can say about Jonah’s defense, it doesn’t always show up in the box score, but he’s able to take out their best guy.” Mitchell said. “He’s our defensive stopper.”

Villagrana led Tustin with 19 points and three 3-pointers. Ethan Contreras added nine points and Terrelle Morales, Carson Jue and Yuri Klines had seven points each for the Tillers.

Tustin Coach Ringo Bossenmeyer saw some areas where his team could improve.

“Once again we competed for a large majority of the game and we did an excellent job of taking care of the basketball against Cypress’ pressure,” Bossenmeyer said. “However we had a couple crucial defensive breakdowns in the fourth quarter and even though they had a few free throws when we were intentionally fouling down the stretch, there is simply no way we can allow a team to score 23 points in a quarter and expect to be successful.”

Kim and his Cypress teammates were excited to open league with the victory.

“It was a grind-out, we knew that going in, Tustin really knows how to value the ball so we had to play smart and take care of our business and make sure and hit shots and we did that late in the game,” said Kim. “Props to Ryan Gov and Kingston Birdsong, they hit two clutch three’s at the end and their free throws closed it out. We’re a fourth-quarter team so I felt like that really showed today.

“It’s going to be competitive, just based off this game. Every team is going to be tough. We just have to keep playing hard and keep playing our brand of basketball and we will be good.”

The teams play again on Monday, Jan. 22 in the final league game between the two squads.

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