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La Mirada’s strong opening fades in middle quarters as San Juan Hills claims first championship in CIF Basketball Finals

March 2, 2022

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

One thing was for certain when La Mirada High hosted San Juan Hills High last Friday night in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A boys basketball championship game. Someone would go home with its first title in school history.

On one side of the court, you had a La Mirada team that was ranked 14th in the division, but had upset No. 3 Tesoro High on the road, No. 6 Calabasas High by three points at home and No. 2 Edison High on the road to get to the finals. On the other side was a program whose school was founded in 2007 and has had four winning seasons.

A strong start by the Matadores went south in the third quarter and they couldn’t recover in a 59-49 loss in front of a packed La Mirada gymnasium.

“There was a little turning point,” said La Mirada head coach Randy Oronoz. “We were up six or eight, they got a big block and scored. We missed a layup and [they scored] and it seemed like momentum changed a little bit. We missed a couple of gimmes which never helps, and they capitalized like they’ve been doing all year.”

La Mirada, which trailed for 1:54 in the first half and led by as many as 10 points late in the first quarter, would lead by nine points four times in the second quarter, the last coming with 4:44 remaining in the half. That’s when the game turned around for all the wrong reasons for the Suburban League champions. For the next 12:44, La Mirada went in a major shooting slump, connecting on three of 17 shots from the field. Meanwhile, the Stallions went on a pair of 12-0 runs during that time and when the third quarter had ended, San Juan Hills was in control with a 43-31 lead.

“You’re not going to win many games going three of 17,” said Oronoz. “A lot of easy ones were gimmes; in and out [and] missed shots [and] opportunities. It got away from us. [Going] three of 17 is kind of a tough stretch. It was so loud, and we were hoping to get into a couple of other things. But unfortunately, we weren’t able to.”

La Mirada led 21-12 with 4:44 left in the half and during the slump, the only scoring until the fourth quarter came on three free throws from freshman Julien Gomez, an offensive putback from sophomore Kaedon Maloney, a three-pointer from junior Athan Sierra and a basket from senior Isiah Kalaj in the final seconds of the third quarter. To add insult to injury, the Matadores had one rebound in the stanza, and it was on the offensive end.

“We’ve done a great job rebounding through our league run and our playoff run,” said Oronoz. “We’re not the biggest team, but we’re normally the tougher team. And today, San Juan Hills definitely put it on us on the glass, and it showed in their run. One rebound in the third isn’t going to win many games.”

From the 1:51 mark of the third quarter to the end of the contest, La Mirada’s deficit was under 10 points only once, and that came after a Kalaj basket with 3:12 left to play, which ended a brief 6-0 run. John McFadden led everyone with 22 points, 12 of which came in the second quarter while Sierra led the Matadores with 13 points and a pair of rebounds. Kalaj had nine points and four rebounds, Gomez added nine points and three boards and freshman Jarrett Cole came off the bench to score eight points, grab three rebounds and have a pair of steals.

For La Mirada to be in this position is another story. The team was one game above .500 through the first 20 games and after a 46-45 loss to Roosevelt High on Jan. 17, the Matadores were sitting at 7-13. But they began league play the next day and won six straight games to end the regular season.

“Our first game with our whole team was our first league game,” said Oronoz. “We had two people injured all of December. We had two people out because of grades, and we knew we weren’t what our record was. We held an Open Division team in Sherman Oaks [Notre Dame], to [57] points, and they have multiple Division 1 athletes on their team. We knew our offense would catch up. But the run we made is purely on the boys, putting it together at the right time.”

La Mirada (17-14 overall) begin the Southern California Regionals this past Tuesday ranked 10th in Division II and upset seventh-seeded King/Drew High 65-60. The Golden Eagles (20-11) had lost to Fairfax High 76-64 in the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship game. La Mirada improved to 18-14 and traveled to second-seeded Los Altos High on Mar. 3 No matter the outcome, this team will be a special one for Oronoz, the school and the community.

“A couple of mentors told me to just take a step back and live in the moment for a second,” said Oronoz. “I sat up in the visitor’s stands around 2:00 p.m. and I just sat and watched. My brother played at La Mirada, my uncle played at La Mirada, my aunt did. I finished at La Mirada; I live in La Mirada; I’m a La Mirada guy. Seeing the support that comes out, seeing everyone just root for our boys; building back the fan base that we had back in 2015 was important for us. I think we’re on the right track right now.”

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