June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

La Habra remembers former player; defeats Sunny Hills to clinch share of league title

La Habra players, coaches and school officials honored Curtis Tryon before the game. (Photos: Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone).

Before a capacity crowd at La Habra High School Friday night, the Highlanders boys basketball team remembered a former teammate, Curtis Tryon, who passed away last fall in a pre-game ceremony.

The Highlanders then went on to capture at least a share of the Freeway League title with a 63-56 win over Sunny Hills.

La Habra sophomore guard Acen Jimenez scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Highlanders (22-4, 8-0) to their 13th consecutive win. Sonora defeated Fullerton on Friday and is two games behind La Habra with two regular season games left.  

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Trailing 39-29 at halftime, the Lancers (15-11, 3-5) rallied and cut the Highlanders’ lead to 49-47 after Kamron Tonga converted two free throws in the final seconds of the third quarter.

But then Jimenez put on a clinic from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Jimenez made 11 of 14 free throws in the final period to foil a Sunny Hills comeback bid. Oddly enough, the Highlanders didn’t make a basket from the field in the fourth quarter, however they converted 14 of 18 foul shots, led by Jimenez.

“I wasn’t nervous at all at the free throw line,” Jimenez said. “I take those shots every day and I work hard at it. It’s the same shot every time. Our defense got a little shaky in the third quarter and they came back on us, but we responded as a unit. It’s great to be 8-0 in league and have a share of the league title but we still have work to do.”

La Habra’s defense also picked up the pace in the final period holding Sunny Hills to nine points and limiting the Lancers to two points over the first 5:35 of the quarter. As hot as Sunny Hills shooting was in the third quarter, they were as cold over the final eight minutes.

“The shots that were falling in the third quarter weren’t going in-in the fourth quarter,” said Sunny Hills Coach Joe Ok. “I think we ran out of gas.”

Sebastian Esparza drilled three 3-pointers and scored 13 points and Jaedon Anderson nailed a pair of 3-pointers and scored 12 points for La Habra. Grayson Sinek also had three 3-pointers and added 10 points for the Highlanders.

“We played better defense, rebounded better in the fourth quarter, we made our free throws and that was the difference,” said Esparza.

“It feels great to win league and it’s my first time in three years,” said Sinek. “We’ve been in tough games before and tonight we executed and we were ‘locked in’ in the fourth quarter and we played with confidence.”  

The game started out fast paced as both teams shot well and executed impressively. Anderson’s 3-pointer with one second left in the opening quarter gave the Highlanders a 24-19 lead after eight minutes. Sinek and Esparza combined to hit three consecutive 3-pointers to help La Habra built a 33-21 lead with 5:30 left in the half. Raeden Bobadilla’s late basket cut the Highlanders lead to 39-29 at the break.   

Lancers guard Nathan Sanchez was outstanding in the first half as he scored 14 points and displayed excellent ball movement and passing skills for Sunny Hills. He finished with 22 points.

“We overcame adversity in the third quarter and came together as a team,” said La Habra Coach Aaron Riekenberg. “We have a special sophomore, Acen Jimenez, who is playing way beyond his years. He helped us get through that tough moment and we played with poise. This is our first league title since 2021 and we feel we can play with anyone.”

Kingsley Ashely scored 12 points and Ze Brien Watkins added eight points for Sunny Hills. Watkins fouled out with 3:18 remaining in the game.

“We fought to the end,” said Ok. “We were up on Sonora by 19 points earlier this week and lost the game, so we know you have to battle to the end and that’s what we did. We still feel we can make the playoffs. I was proud of how our guys never gave up.”

In the ceremony before the game, La Habra athletic director Paul Caffrey led a moving tribute and a moment of silence for Tryon, who passed away unexpectedly this past fall.

Tryon’s parents, Toby and Mia, were on hand and honored at midcourt and presented with a framed No. 21 jersey of their son who was a member of La Habra’s championship team in 2021. The crowd gave the Tryon’s a standing ovation as players and coaches joined the Tryon Family at center court. The players and coaches and many people in the crowd wore a No. 21 jersey in Tryon’s honor.

“Curtis was the true character of our team,” said Riekenberg. “He did everything we ever asked of him. He was a starter and a role player. He never complained. He would come up to our coaches after practices and thank us all of the time. Who does that? Curtis did. He helped change the culture of our program. He was loved by everyone.”

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone