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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
The Norwalk High boys basketball team may not be the favorites to win the Suburban League every year or come close to achieving that feat. But the Lancers are certainly becoming spoilers to those who are favored to win the league.
After seeing his team build a 12-point lead against visiting Cerritos High with 5:59 remaining in this past Monday’s game, Norwalk head coach Jim Webster saw the Dons go on a 17-6 run after senior Brandon Yoon sank three free throws. But with 12 seconds remaining, senior Keno Valdenor iced the game with two clutch free throws as the Lancers escaped with a 45-42 victory. It was only the second Norwalk home victory over Cerritos with 2011 being the only other time, a 62-60 win. In fact, since 2008, these two teams have played eight games decided by four points or less. It was a game that Webster summed up in one word.
“Tremendous,” Webster said. “To hold them to 42, 20 under their average and at halftime, it was in the teens. I know they missed a lot of shots and free throws. But that was the intensity of the game and stuff that we can cause. I couldn’t be any prouder.”
Last season, Norwalk lost to Cerritos 51-48 in overtime at home and two seasons ago, it defeated Cerritos 46-42 at Cerritos while losing to the Dons 61-58 in double overtime at home.
Cerritos grabbed an early 6-3 lead before the Lancers reeled off seven straight points. Norwalk took the lead for good 70 seconds into the second quarter when Valdenor hit a three-pointer from the right corner. A minute later, he would feed an ally-oop pass to senior Omar Tinoco.
The Dons (11-8 overall, 3-1 in league) would close the gap to a point on consecutive baskets from sophomore Jyvonnte Moore before the hosts closed out the half with six straight points over a span of 2:22.
Norwalk’s defense limited the Dons to seven of 25 shooting from the field in the first half. But offensively, the Lancers (11-7, 3-1) were controlling the pace by chewing most of the shot clock and not taking a shot until there were at least five seconds remaining.
“It was, to control the tempo,” Webster said of his game plan. “But I think in the last 10 seconds, sometimes our plan wasn’t good and we didn’t get enough good shots in the last 10 seconds like we had hoped to. But it is something we need to work on.”
The low scoring affair continued in the third quarter as Norwalk scored three baskets within the first 4:32 while yielding a Moore free throw. By the end of the third quarter, Norwalk had a 33-23 lead but the other storyline was the job Norwalk’s defense did in senior Evan Leonard. The University of California, Irvine commit was held to seven points through the first three quarters on three of 11 shooting. He finished, though, with a game-high 20 points, nine rebounds and three steals. It’s the ninth time in 11 games played this season that Leonard has scored at least 20 points.
“You can’t hold a guy down like that,” Webster said. “It seemed like he took every shot in the fourth quarter. We know it’s going to be a battle with these guys every time and especially when we go back to their place, I know they’re going to shoot better. So we have to shoot a little better too.”
Leonard would try to get a spark going with a three-pointer with just under six minutes left in the game, making it 37-28. Shortly after that, he scored again after a steal and assist from Yoon. Then with 68 seconds remaining, a trifecta from Cerritos senior Trenton Abundo made it 41-34 and Leonard, who was fouled on a three-point attempt, cashed in on all three free throws with 50 seconds left to make it a four-point game.
Valdenor came off the bench to lead Norwalk with 13 points, including six of six from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter while senior David Suarez was crashing the boards to the tune of 11 rebounds.
“David was rebounding like a mad man and Keno came [through] in the clutch,” Webster said. “Those were huge free throws. We’ll take it.”
Prior to the game, it was a one-sided affair as Cerritos, the favorites to repeat as league champs, never trailed in a 64-31 win over the struggling and young Lady Lancers. Cerritos, which outscored Norwalk 17-2 in the opening stanza, went on a 15-0 run that lasted over seven minutes from nearly midway through the first quarter to the opening minutes of the second quarter.
The Lady Dons shot 45 percent from the field and were led by its top two scorers all season long-junior Ifeoma Okoli (21 points, seven rebounds, three bocks) and senior Tatiana Fominyam (14 points, seven rebounds, seven steals). Sophomore Tracy Nakamura came off the bench to add seven points.
For the Lady Lancers (5-14, 1-3), whose losing streak went to nine games, junior Crystal Lambey had a team-high 11 points and nine rebounds while seniors Danielle Tate and Mele Valele each had six points and five rebounds.
Both Norwalk teams had easy victories over John Glenn High this past Wednesday while the Cerritos squads breezed past Artesia High this past Wednesday. The Lady Dons (10-7, 4-0) posted a 64-16 win as junior Teresa Torres had a career-high 13 points while Okoli added 11 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks. The boys team then prevailed in a 74-55 decision as Leonard scored 20 points and Yoon another 16 points, including five three-pointers.
Both Cerritos basketball teams will host La Mirada High today with the girls also facing Arroyo Valley High on Monday while both Norwalk squads will visit Mayfair High on Wednesday.
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