May 17, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Damien overcomes big deficit to upset Crean Lutheran in playoff opener

Rui Han of Crean Lutheran goes up to block the shot by RJ Smith of Damien. (Photos courtesy Crean Lutheran Shutterbugs, Ted Rigoni and John Luciano).

The No. 5 Damien High boys’ basketball team overcame a 20-point deficit and shocked No. 4 Crean Lutheran in the opening round of pool play in the CIF Open Division basketball playoffs Friday night at Crean Lutheran High.

Spartans center Jimmy Oladokum led all scorers with 18 points as Damien (27-2) outscored the Saints 39-22 in the second half to complete its comeback and notch its seventh consecutive victory. The Saints fell to 22-4.  

Crean Lutheran coach Nate Klitzing was disappointed following the game but said he was proud of his team.

“We came ready to play and we played great defense and made shots in the first half,” said Klitzing. “However, we did less of that in the second half and that was the difference. We have two more games to play and we have to win both of those. I’m proud of these guys.

“This is our first time being invited to the Open Division and we proved we belong. We had a couple bad breaks in the second half and they banked in a three late in the game and that changed the game.”

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

Behind the outstanding execution and defensive play Rui Han, Vyctorius Miller, James Agany and Koat Keat, the Saints went on an 18-1 run to open the second quarter and took a commanding lead.

Keat’s basket gave Crean Lutheran a 37-17 lead with 2:36 left in the half. However, the Spartans cut into the Saints lead by going on an 8-0 spurt in the final two minutes of the quarter and trimmed the lead to 37-25 by intermission.

Damien continued to hang around and reduced the deficit to 50-44 after three quarters.

Spivey Word’s bucket tied the game at 54-54 with four minutes remaining in the game. The Spartans forged ahead, 60-56, on back-to-back 3’s by Kaleb Smith and Spivey with 42 seconds left.

Parker Tuttle drilled a three with 27 seconds left to trim Damien’s lead to 60-59. The Spartans then committed a foul on the ensuing inbounds play and Crean Lutheran had an excellent opportunity to take the lead but missed a shot from in close with 12 seconds remaining.

Damien’s senior guard RJ Smith then made four free throws in the final seconds to secure the win for the Spartans.

“It’s a grind,” said Damien Coach Michael Le Duc. “In the Open Division there probably wasn’t 12 losses among all eight teams all season but in the next week these teams will combine for 12 losses. It all comes down to whom is playing better in the end. Give Crean (Lutheran) credit, they took us out of our game in the first half, but in the second half we executed better and made some shots and played better defense. “

Despite the setback the Saints players remained upbeat.

“We played hard in the first half but in the second half we didn’t play as well as a team,” said Agany. “We need to come back strong on Tuesday and execute better. We know we can do it.”

Keat agreed with his teammate.

“We came ready to play tonight and we played hard but we must keep our heads high,” said Keat, who scored 14 points before fouling out with 1:53 to play. “We have to get better as a team and we know we are capable of it.”   

Miller led the Saints with 15 points and Tuttle added 10 points. Word and RJ Smith scored 14 and 12 points respectively for the Spartans.    

Crean Lutheran plays Bishop Montgomery at home on Tuesday and then travels to Corona Centennial next Friday. Damien faces Centennial on Tuesday and Bishop Montgomery next Friday.

Centennial Corona, Sierra Canyon, Harvard Westlake and Crean Lutheran make up Pool A. Damien, Mater Dei, Notre Dame Sherman Oaks and Bishop Montgomery make up Pool B. The finals are scheduled on Friday Feb. 25 at a location to be determined.

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone