June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

La Habra’s memorable season ends with loss to King/Drew in CIF So Cal regional

La Habra’s CIF championship boys basketball team was joined by members of the La Habra Junior National Basketball team before Thursday’s game. (Photos: Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone).

The magical and record-setting season for the La Habra High School boys basketball team came to a sudden end on Thursday night as the Highlanders fell at home to King/Drew 62-55 before a capacity crowd in the second round of the CIF Southern California Division II regionals.

La Habra finished the season 30-5, the most single season wins in school’s history and last Saturday the Highlanders won the school’s first boys CIF basketball championship by defeating St. Bonaventure. No. 14-seeded King/Drew (21-11) has won seven of its last eight games and advances to the semifinals Saturday to face Centennial, who beat Thousand Oaks on Thursday.  

King/Drew guard Donald Thompson scored 25 points and teammate Jayshawn Kibble added 19 points to help the Golden Eagles snap the Highlanders 21-game winning streak and handed La Habra its first loss since Dec. 18. Thompson and Kibble were outstanding as they put on a shooting clinic and were virtually unstoppable.

“Credit King/Drew, their two guards (Thompson and Kibble) shot lights out,” said La Habra Coach Aaron Riekenberg. “We made mistakes down the stretch and didn’t execute. We didn’t want our season to end but we had a great season. We brought home the first 30-game win season and we won the boys first basketball CIF championship. I’m proud of these boys and to be a part of this La Habra community.”

La Habra led 42-37 after three quarters and started off the final quarter in good shape as Grayson Sinek and Acen Jimenez each hit a basket to give the Highlanders a 46-43 lead.

Thompson then tied the game at 46-46 by completing a 3-point play with 2:34 to play. But that’s when the tide changed. The Highlanders led for most of the game, however they were outscored in the final quarter 25-13 and outscored in the final 2:34 of the contest 16-9.

In addition, La Habra uncharacteristically missed four free throws and committed two crucial turnovers in the minutes. The Golden Eagles, who defeated Marina in an opening round game on the road Tuesday night, scored on nine of their final 10 possessions, including converting 10 of 13 free throws to seal the victory.  

“We made some mental mistakes late and out shots weren’t dropping like they were in the first half,” said Sinek, who scored a game-high 28 points, including six 3-pointers.

La Habra junior guard Sebastian Esparza said it was a disappointing loss.

“They got hot shooting and we made some crucial mistakes,” said Esparza. “We accomplished a lot this season. We made history and it was a great season, but it’s a tough way to end.” 

Jaeden Anderson drilled four 3-pointers and scored 12 points and Jimenez added 10 points for the Highlanders.

La Habra senior center Joseph Cruz said despite the loss he was proud to be a part of the Highlanders team.

“This season meant everything, it was a joy to be on this team,” said Cruz. “However, at the end it seemed like everything went their way.”

The game was fast paced and both teams displayed some fine outstanding shooting. Sinek hit a 3-pointer and Anderson made two 3s in the final 1:13 of the opening quarter as La Habra moved out to a 16-13 lead after the first quarter.

Anderson’s 3-pointer early in the second quarter gave the Highlanders their largest lead of the first half at 21-15, but King/Drew quickly countered with a 7-0 run. Kameron Gates’ bucket gave the Golden Eagles a 22-21 lead at the 3:46 mark of the quarter. Late in the half, Sinek drilled another two 3-pointers and Jimenez added a basket to give the Highlanders a 31-30 lead at the break.

La Habra had an excellent opportunity to create some separation in the third quarter, but failed to do so. The Highlanders committed four turnovers over the first three minutes of the third quarter and held King/Drew scoreless for nearly four minutes but couldn’t increase their lead. Sinek’s basket with 34 seconds left in the quarter gave La Habra a 42-37 lead after three quarters setting the stage for a wild final eight minutes.

“We decided not to pressure them on defense in the final minutes and I think that surprised them” said King/Drew coach Lloyd Webster. “We saw a few things in their game against Cathedral Catholic and made some adjustments, and that along with our instincts was the difference.”

Highlanders junior forward Christian Howlin said the final few minutes were tough.

“The calls went against us late in the game and they hit some big shots and that was the game,” said Howlin. “It was a great season and I’m so proud to be a part of this team”   

Each team made nine 3-pointers in the game.  

For best view, click on the first photo:

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone