May 30, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Portola races past Irvine 70-51 and wins outright PCL crown, a first for program

Portola players and coaches celebrate after winning the PCL title outright Thursday night. (Photo courtesy Portola athletics, For OC Sports Zone)

Portola’s boys basketball team already had a share of the Pacific Coast League title when it took the floor Thursday night for the season finale against Irvine.

The Bulldogs walked off the floor with the outright title defeating Irvine 70-51 at Irvine. Robert Giraldy scored 21 points to lead the Bulldogs, who are in their second varsity season.

The Bulldogs extended their winning streak to nine games and improved to 17-11 overall and 9-1 in league. Their only league loss was to Beckman. The Vaqueros finish the season with a 6-22 and were winless in league.

“It feels great to win the PCL and we are peaking at the right time of the season,” Giraldy said. “We’ve been talking about winning the PCL for four years, now we have a bigger job to do.”

The Bulldogs will have to wait until Sunday’s CIF playoff selections are made to see who and where they will play in the opening round of the 3AA playoffs. Portola lost to Moorpark last season in the second round.

Thursday’s lopsided final score was not indicative of the game. 

Kade Zimmerman’s basket with 6:34 to play cut the Portola lead to 50-46. However, the Bulldogs quickly regrouped and went on an 18-0 over the next 4:13. Moshen Hashemi’s two free throws upped the Portola lead to 68-46 with 2:21 to play as the Bulldogs closed it out.

“We started out slow and then played catch up and then we started scoring a lot,” said Hashemi, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds. “We’ve been working for four years to win the PCL title.”

Jeffrey Chen, Giraldy, Soma Doherty and Hashemi led the Bulldogs fourth quarter surge that changed the game’s complexion.

“We started playing better defense and got rebounds in the second half,” said Doherty, who scored 10 points. “It feels great to win the league title. We got here by playing as a team. This has been our dream.”

Chen scored 7 of his 11 points in the game in the fourth quarter.

Portola coach Brian Smith said his team didn’t play its best but “now every team is 0-0 going into the playoffs.”

“Coaches are never happy,” said Smith. “I don’t like the way we started the game, but I like the way we finished it. Give Irvine credit, they played with purpose and they battled. We were 6-10 at one point this season and we turned it around. Now we really got to be ready going forward. I’m proud of these kids.”

The Vaqueros jumped out to an early 11-2 lead after Nicolas Guo drilled three consecutive 3-pointers in the opening quarter. However, Giraldy and Hashemi led the Bulldogs comeback. Hashemi’s bucket down the stretch gave Portola a 17-15 lead after one quarter.

Neither team shot particularly well in the second quarter but Irvine hung around and trailed only 31-25 at the break.

The Bulldogs increased their lead to as many as 14 points in the third quarter, but Tristan Le’s basket with one second remaining in the third quarter cut the lead to 50-41 after three periods. 

Guo canned six 3-pointers and finished the game with 18 points for Irvine and his teammates Nicholas Delyca and Le added 7 points apiece. 

Despite the loss, Vaqueros Shacolby Randell said the future is bright for Irvine basketball.

“We’re a young team and all we can do is improve,” said Randell. “We’re going to get faster and smarter. We have to put the work in but the sky is the limit. These are quality kids.”

Irvine seniors Fredrick Nerizon, Andy Vacgas, Keith Cutler, Guo and Le were honored for their dedication to the Vaqueros program in a pre-game ceremony.

-Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone