June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: La Habra makes history earning first trip to CIF finals with decisive win

La Habra’s Grayson Sinek drives to the basket against Hesperia. (Photos courtesy Mark Bausman, For OC Sports Zone).

La Habra’s boys basketball team is going where no previous Highlander team has been before.

After 70 years and three previous trips to the semifinals for the program, the 2024 Highlanders are headed to the CIF Division 3AA finals. 

Grayson Sinek and Jaedon Anderson each poured in 21 points to lead top-seeded La Habra to a 63-43 victory over Hesperia Friday night in the semifinals at La Habra.

The Highlanders (28-4) have won 19 consecutive games and will face St. Bonaventure next weekend. Time and location will be announced later.

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

Both La Habra and Hesperia qualified for the Southern California regional tournament which begins following the CIF finals. La Habra has not lost since Wednesday, Dec. 18 when the Highlanders dropped a two-point decision to Huntington Beach. 

With 37 seconds remaining in the game, La Habra Coach Aaron Riekenberg replaced his starters, who received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd. 

“This team is hungry,” said Riekenberg.  “They knew the opportunity they had to go to the finals and be the first team in La Habra history to do so. We envisioned this when they were freshmen and tonight they made it come true.”

The Highlanders, behind the sizzling 3-point shooting of Sebastian Esparza, Sinek, Joseph Cruz and Christian Howling drilled six three pointers in the first quarter and led 22-10 after eight minutes of play. 

Esparza and Jaedon Anderson nailed three pointers in the second quarter as the Highlanders maintained their edge and took a 32-20 halftime lead in to the locker room.

“The key was our ball movement and executing our offense and creating good shots,” said Sinek, who continually applied pressure against the Scorpions front line aggressively driving to the basket to score and set up his teammates for easy buckets. “It feels amazing that we are going to the finals and making history for our school.”

La Habra played an almost perfect game on defense as well. Led by Ulavai Fetuli, Acen Jimenez and Cruz, the Highlanders challenged every Hesperia shot and fought for every rebound. The Scorpions (23-9) didn’t convert back-to back baskets on consecutive possessions until the final moments of the first half.

“We played aggressive and followed the game plan,” said Fetuli.

The Highlanders continued their hot hand in the third quarter. Anderson’s 3-pointer upped the La Habra lead to 42-22 at the 5:06 mark of the quarter. Despite an valiant effort, Hesperia couldn’t close the gap and La Habra increased it advantage to 51-30, following Sinek’s three free throws in the final seconds of the third quarter. 

The Scorpions got 18 points from Mark Jones but it was not nearly enough. The Highlanders never let up and won going away. 

“It means everything in the world to us to be going to the finals,” said Anderson, who finished with four 3’s. “We played excellent defense and we finished tonight. It’s what we’ve been striving for all along.”

Esparza said his team has an opportunity to do something special.

“It’s amazing to make the finals,” said Esparza, who hit three 3-pointers and scored nine points. “We stayed composed and finished our plays and now we have an opportunity to do something and put a banner up in the gymnasium.”

La Habra finished with 11 three-pointers.

“I’m not surprised by these guys,” Riekenberg said. “Grayson and Jaedon can fill it up as good as anybody. These guys have continued to learn and build since they’ve been here. They have an incredible work ethic and anything they do doesn’t surprise me.”

Hesperia, champions of the Mojave River League, had their seven game winning streak snapped and they were held to their lowest point total of the season. The Scorpions were attempting to reach the CIF finals for the first time since 2020 when they lost to Ribet Academy.

The Highlanders last reached the semifinals during the 1976-77 season and also in the 1971-72 and 1963-64 seasons.  

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone