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By Loren Kopff
The first half of last Friday night’s Cerritos-Gahr boys basketball game looked like the previous encounters of this city tilt. But in the third quarter, the host Gladiators turned a close game into the biggest one-sided victory by either team in this rivalry.
Gahr scored 30 points in the third quarter and went on to stomp Cerritos 95-59 to improve to 5-1 at the time. The 95 points are the most ever by either team in this series since 2000 as Gahr defeated the Dons for the fifth time on the court in the last seven meetings, not including a 100-84 victory in a 2009 Cerritos-Gahr Tournament game. Last season’s 76-64 Gahr victory was later ruled a forfeit. The 36-point margin marked the third time in the last five meetings that the victor has won by as many as 23 points.
“To start the third quarter, we actually ran our press correctly,” said Gahr head coach Ricky Roper. “We were late on some rotations in the first half and we were trapping when we weren’t supposed to trap. So we kind of cleaned some things up at halftime defensively. That was the big difference.”
“We just ran out of gas,” said Cerritos head coach Jonathan Watanabe. “They tend to do that. But we battled and I’m proud of the guys’ effort.”
Although the Dons never led in the game, they never trailed by more than four points in the first quarter until Gahr senior Bryce Hogan scored with 62 seconds remaining to make it a 20-15 game. Shortly after that, junior Malachi Hoosein scored on a steal to increase the margin to seven points.
But the Dons scored consecutive baskets to end the quarter, one of only two times they would do that in the first half. With 1:40 remaining in the first half, Cerritos senior Bryan Tong sank a pair of free throws to tie the game at 30-30. Gahr then ended the half on a 5-0 run and the first two baskets of the second half to go up 39-30.
“In the first half we were able to stay in front of them and not have to help,” Watanabe said. “In the second half, they were able to break us down where we had to help and that’s where they got the open three’s.”
In fact, Gahr would connect on its first five field goals of the second half and was true on 13 of 19 shots in the third quarter. Hoosein scored 13 of his game-high 20 points in the stanza and was averaging 18.8 points a game after the Cerritos game. Hoosein also led Gahr with eight rebounds.
“Malachi is a guy who probably could have played varsity for a lot of teams as a sophomore, but we had an outstanding team last year,” Roper said. “So he played j.v. and worked really hard in the offseason. He pretty much does everything for us.”
After Cerritos had drawn to within 17 points late in the third quarter, Gahr went on a 16-2 to lead 73-42. In addition to Hoosein, Gahr had three starters score in double figures. Hogan posted a career-high 14 points and dished out four assists. Senior Ryan Hart and Cory Johnson each had 10 points and all 12 players who suited up for Gahr scored.
Cerritos was led by sophomore Jonathan Rivera, who came off the bench to score a career-high 13 points. Senior Elijah Leonard added 10 points and senior Dylan Hirata, also coming off the bench, added nine points. Cerritos dropped to 0-5 at the time, the worst start in at least over 16 seasons for the Dons.
“It’s actually not that bad,” Watanabe said. “The guys are working and they’re getting better. After the first game, frustrating would have been the perfect word. But since then, the guys have been really resilient.”
“It’s a game where you throw out the records,” Roper said. “Usually the team that’s not having as good of a season plays up to the other team. That’s usually how it goes in rivalries. We knew they would come out and play hard and we knew they would give us a tough challenge.”
Gahr defeated Magnolia 79-25 in a first round game of the Sonora Tournament this past Monday while Cerritos dropped a 66-52 decision to Vista in the opening round of the Westminster Tournament this past Tuesday. Both teams will conclude their respective tournaments on Saturday.
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