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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL : CERRITOS BOYS DOMINATE ARTESIA TO WIN PROGRAM’S FIRST LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP IN OVER TWO DECADES

BY LOREN KOPFF
@LORENKOPFF

Longtime Cerritos High boys basketball head coach Jonathan Watanabe was coaching the school’s junior varsity team the last time the Dons won a league title. Cerritos was in the Mission Valley League at that time and after one more season in that league, the Dons would go through 20 seasons in the Suburban League without a league crown. 

Now, Watanabe, who has close to 270 wins in 18 seasons at the varsity level, can finally call himself a league champion head coach as the Dons went wire to wire to take down Artesia High 62-45 this past Tuesday. The Dons improved to 15-11 overall and 8-1 in the 605 League. It’s also the program’s fifth league crown overall.

“It’s a big weight off my shoulders,” Watanabe said. “To have all these guys here (pointing towards stands behind the Cerritos bench) was awesome. We had over 30 alumni come back to watch this game because it’s not just the guys on the court. It’s all the guys that have established the program. We’ve been doing this for 18 years and it was just little by little, piece by piece and they were looking to getting closer. It’s not just the guys on the court, it’s a league championship for all the guys and all the time we put in.”

The program had always been in the shadows of either Artesia, a seven-time league champion within the first nine seasons Cerritos jumped into the Suburban League, then either La Mirada High or Mayfair High, who combined to win the next 11 league championships until the Dons moved into the 605 League at the beginning of this academic school year. 

“We should have won it last year, but we took a loss to La Mirada late in the second round,” said Cerritos sophomore Alex Archer. “It’s a little bit overwhelming, but we all knew coming in that we were going to be league champs.”

The Dons were on fire on “Black Out” night, scoring the first eight points of the game and leading by nine points three minutes in after junior Jagger Uy hit the first of his two long range baskets. The Pioneers then reeled off the next seven points but after that, could not get any closer. Cerritos would be up 27-21 at halftime, then put the game away with the knockout punch in the third quarter. It was there that the hosts went on an 11-2 run through the first four minutes and outscored Artesia (17-10, 7-2) 18-6 in the third quarter. While the Cerritos defense limited Artesia to five field goals in 19 attempts in the first half, it held the visitors to two made baskets in 13 tries in the third quarter.

“We’ve been in a lot of these games,” Watanabe said. “The Staples Center game (against Downey High), we’ve had a big Gahr game, and even the Whitney game was a big game with all the people there. So, we’ve been preparing for this. We tried to make sure the game wasn’t too big for our kids; that they played the game. It was just a game and they came out and performed.”

From the time when Uy hit his second three-pointer with 4:37 left in the third quarter to the end of the game, the Dons maintained a double-digit lead. It would grow to a game-high 27 points with under three minutes remaining before the Pioneers scored the final 10 points of the contest.

Uy led everyone with 15 points while junior Ethan Reyes and senior Donte Burnett added 13 and 11 points respectively with a combined six three-pointers. Archer grabbed 11 rebounds and had a pair of steals while senior Aditya Suresh pulled down eight boards. It’s performances like that all season that has made Cerritos an all-around team instead of one that relies on a player, or two, or three.

“I thought we were just a really good team,” Watanabe said. “I thought this group…it’s just share the ball, takes the best shots. Sometimes we overpass the ball a little too much. But that’s a good thing.

“Out of all the groups, it’s nice to have this group win [a league title],” he added. “We’ve enjoyed coaching this year and it’s a group you can be proud of.”

“We have a young team, but in that, we’re a very tight knit group,” Archer said. “It doesn’t matter whether we make mistake or not, we’re going to stay together no matter what.”

Cerritos will have a home game in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs, which will be on Feb. 8 while Artesia, which was paced by seniors Jarren Bugay (14 points, eight rebounds) and Heder Gladden (11 points, seven rebounds).will either play in a Division 3A wild card game on Wednesday, or a first round game on Feb. 8.

Prior to the boys game, the Cerritos Lady Dons easily coasted to a 67-22 victory, improving their mark to 17-10, 7-2 and maintaining second place in league. The Lady Dons scored the first five points of the game, then went on a 13-0 run after the Pioneers scored their lone points of the first quarter.

Artesia (12-15, 0-9), which has lost 12 straight games, attempted just 22 shots and turned the ball over 35 times, leading to 23 steals by Cerritos. The Lady Pioneers would also score just two points in the fourth quarter. 

Cerritos junior Alyssa Saragumba recorded a career-high 13 points on perfect shooting from the field while senior Iris Lee added 10 points and five rebounds as 11 different players scored. In contrast, four players scored for the Lady Pioneers, led by junior Seira Roberts, who had nine points and 10 rebounds.

Both Artesia teams concluded the regular season at Pioneer High on Jan. 31 while the two Cerritos teams hosted Oxford Academy on Jan. 31. In addition, the Lady Dons, ranked 10th in Division 3AA, will most likely host a first round game on Thursday.

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