June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Cypress ends Crean Lutheran’s league winning streak and stays in first place

Michael Wright of Cypress gains control against Crean Lutheran’s Jacob Majok Wednesday night. (Photos courtesy Crean Lutheran Shuttebugs: John Luciano, Howard Lyon and Ted Rigoni).

Cypress High School’s boys basketball team took over sole possession of first place in the Empire League with a 55-52 road victory over Crean Lutheran Wednesday night, snapping the Saints 34-game league winning streak dating back to 2020.

Crean Lutheran won the last three league titles going 10-0. Cypress, which had a 33-game league winning streak during its title run, had its last league title in 2020.

The Centurions (16-5, 4-0) hope they can celebrate another crown later this season, but they have six more league games left including a rematch with Crean Lutheran (10-10, 3-1) on Tuesday, Jan. 30 at Cypress.

Wednesday’s game was an exciting and hard-fought, clean game in front of a capacity crowd between two teams who were tied for first place.

Crean Lutheran had a chance to tie the game with under 10 seconds left but could not convert a 3-pointer. Crean Lutheran’s Troy Jenkins made a follow-up at the buzzer to account for the final margin.

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

“Our staff had a great game plan to come out, we came out with lots of energy, Crean (Lutheran) is a great team, they came back in the second half and we withstood their run and pulled it out in the end. I’m really proud of our guys, it’s only one though, we have to get them at our place too,” said Cypress Coach Derek Mitchell.

“It’s a tough place to play, we’re still going to be in the same league next year, so we will be back but it’s the last time here in the Empire League so it’s good to get a victory here.”

Cypress was led by Ryan Gov, who had 17 points and four 3-pointers in the first half King Birdsong, who had 15 points and Michael Wright, who had 11 points and three 3-pointers. Jonah Kim added seven points.

“It was a great team win, a lot of guys played their roles; I know Mike didn’t get as many shots as he wanted inside but he was hitting the three, that’s what he does, he figures out how they’re going to defend him and he can step out and hits it,” Mitchell said, adding that Wright’s rebounding was critical.

Crean Lutheran led 12-11 after one quarter but Cypress outscored the Saints 16-5 in the second quarter to move out to a 27-17 halftime lead. Cypress extended its lead to 43-30 after three quarters before Crean Lutheran came charging back cutting the lead to two points twice.

But Birdsong made two free throws with 8 seconds left to seal the win.

Kaiden Bailey, who scored 19 points, was the only Saints player in double figures. Milanas Luksas and Jacob Majok added nine points each for the Saints, who battled hard in front of their home fans.

“It was a heckuva game, really back and forth,” said Crean Lutheran Coach Nate Klitzing. “Cypress came out with a lot of energy, we had some jitters it felt like and missed a few opportunities early to weather a few of those tough stretches. But we went into halftime still within reach, a 10-point game and in the third quarter we came out a little more poised, not pressing so much and got some better looks. That helped, but Cypress played great the whole game, they were feisty and they really heavily worked to make it difficult for Kaiden.

“I’m proud of the way our guys fought down the stretch in that fourth quarter to make a comeback where we could of folded and we showed some resilience and some fight which is a great sign for our young team that we didn’t turn on each other and we rallied together and made it a game.”

The Saints are still hoping they can earn a share of the title.

“We got many of the other games, Tustin is going to be a challenge on Friday,” Klitzing said. “That’s the goal to get to their place (at Cypress) having the same record with a few more wins to give us a shot to win another championship.”

Cypress players, who were congratulated by their fans when they came out in a victory tunnel, were thrilled with the win.

“It was a very hard fought win,” said Gov. “I thought we had a good first half, we knew they were going to come back on a run in the second half and they did, and we were able to sustain it at the end. The plan was to stop Bailey, he’s a really good scorer, we had to try and limit him, and make him frustrated. It’s the last Empire (League season) so every one in that locker-room wanted to win.”

“It feels really good, we haven’t beaten Crean Lutheran in a while, coach had a really good game plan before the game, he told us what we needed to do,” added Birdsong. “We stuck with it throughout the game and it got us the victory.”

Birdsong said after the game Coach Mitchell noted the Centurions need a strong finish.

“We have six more games and not to get too excited about this one, we still have to finish it out,” he said.

Cypress hosts Pacifica Friday night.

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