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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
Artesia High boys basketball head coach Ray Walker was hoping the beginning of the second half of Suburban League play was not a repeat of what happened on Jan. 9. Back then, the Pioneers led Norwalk High by as many as 13 points late in the first half only to see the Lancers rally back to send the game into overtime.
The Pioneers, who scored the last three points of regulation before winning by two points in the end in that game, made sure their 10-point halftime lead held up when the two teams met again this past Wednesday. It did, as Artesia cruised to a 50-36 win to improve to 13-8 overall and 4-3 in the league.
“Yeah, we talked about it at halftime about leading,” Walker said. “We were leading Mayfair [on Jan. 20] at halftime and had a really good lead in the first half and then we didn’t finish the game. So we thought it was important that we finished today; that we come out in the first four minutes of the third quarter and play as hard as we had played to start the game so we don’t have a lapse.”
Artesia held a slim 11-10 lead after the first quarter and was up 19-16 with 2:22 remaining in the half. That’s when the visitors began to pull away as junior Reginald Reamer and sophomore Heder Gladden combined for the seven points of the half.
Norwalk would make a small rush to get back into the game when senior David Balderas, who has been hot as of late from beyond the arc, nailed consecutive three-pointers to make it a 30-23 game. But Artesia senior Devion Smith hit a trifecta with 90 seconds left in the third quarter. Then junior Johnny Porter had a steal and threw up a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer that clanked the iron and fell in to give the Pioneers a 36-23 lead.
Gladden led everyone with 18 points and had six rebounds but the quiet leader was senior Albert Pasqual, who pitched in with a dozen points on four three-pointers.
“He’s a very good shooter,” Walker said. “He’s been a great addition for us. He’s been solid, he’s a senior and it’s been a big year for him. But he can shoot the basketball. He made some very big shots. He’s very unselfish and we’ve begged him to shoot more because he’s so effective when he does.”
Balderas led Norwalk with 15 points while senior Jordan Volpei added 13 points Artesia senior Alex Linao also had a big game with eight rebounds and three assists as the Pioneers will visit second place Cerritos High tonight before hosting last place John Glenn High on Wednesday. The win over Norwalk (8-13, 2-5) put the Pioneers two games ahead of the Lancers and one game behind third place La Mirada High. It also assured Artesia of at least a non-losing regular season.
“We talked to the kids that this was kind of a playoff game because you never know,” Walker said. “Just because you’re .500 can get you in, but doesn’t guarantee you [that you’re in]. Automatically qualifying would be nice. I don’t think we have since I’ve been here. Being able to automatically qualify would be a big step, a big accomplishment.”
Earlier in the day, the losing continued for the Artesia girls as they dropped their seventh straight game in a 57-46 decision to the Lady Lancers. Artesia was never in the game as Norwalk went on a 16-0 run to lead 19-4 early in the second quarter. At one point in the season, Artesia was sitting at 6-6 overall and heading into the beginning of league play, was the only league team with a non-losing record.
“What happened is we had 16 kids at the start of the year [and] we lost some kids to disciplinary problems,” said Artesia head coach Shontya Pouncey. “And then a couple of kids quit who were friends of those kids and we’re down to what we have. The thing I love about these girls who stayed is the grit and the hunger and the will to still come every day and participate in practice and try to win basketball games.”
Artesia (6-13, 0-7) got as close as eight points with 2:18 left in the first half following a steal and three-point play from junior Cassidy Valle. The Pioneers would get their deficit into single digits once in the second half before Norwalk (9-10, 3-4) went on a 14-6 run to close out the quarter. Valle, a transfer from Las Vegas, has been a pleasant surprise for Pouncey and the team thus far. She posted a career-high 22 points against Norwalk and has scored in double digits in four straight games. Senior Taryn Davis, who added seven points, was strong on the glass with 12 rebounds.
“Taryn has stepped up big because [junior Cesilia Cabrera] is a major contributor in rebounding and leads our team in rebounding,” Pouncey said. “She was our second-leading scorer. With her probably out for the year [with an injury], Taryn has really stepped up and has done a great job individually. Cassidy is Cassidy. She’s that way every game, night in and night out. Hopefully we can get the other kids on board.”
Senior Crystal Lambey led Norwalk with 15 points and had seven rebounds while junior Alyssandra Lopez came off the bench to score a career-high 12 points along with four rebounds, four steals and three assists. Junior Bjanka Torres added 10 points and senior Destiny Hurtado grabbed 11 rebounds, six in the first quarter alone.
In other basketball action, with the second round of league play beginning for everyone, teams are jockeying for potential league title or playoff positions. The Cerritos boys team (11-10 overall, 5-1 in league) was one game behind first place Mayfair High entering its contest with Bellflower High from this past Wednesday while the girls (13-8, 7-0) are by far the dominant team in the league. Cerritos will visit La Mirada on Monday before hosting Norwalk on Wednesday.
The Gahr High boys team knocked off Dominguez High 73-55 this past Wednesday in a first place battle that left the Gladiators at 14-8 overall and 5-0 in the San Gabriel Valley League. The Gahr girls improved to 11-8 overall and 2-3 in league play after a 58-15 win over Dominguez. Both Gahr teams will visit Lynwood High tonight before hosting Warren High on Wednesday.
The Valley Christian High boys team steeped out of Olympic League action to defeat Christian High 79-59 last Saturday to move to 13-9 overall. The Crusaders get back into league action when they host last place Village Christian High tonight. Valley Christian is in a three-way tie for second place at 2-2. Meanwhile, the Valley Christian (17-3, 4-0) can strengthen its hold on first place with a win over second place Village Christian before hosting St. Anthony High on Saturday.
Both Whitney High teams were sitting in fifth place in the Academy League entering their Jan. 26 games at Brethren Christian High. The Wildcats will then host St. Margaret’s High on Tuesday before going to Calvary Chapel Downey High on Thursday. The Whitney boys were sitting at 11-11 overall and 2-4 in league play while the Lady Wildcats were sporting a 10-8 overall mark and 3-3 in league.
Norwalk and Valley Christian have the best chances of advancing to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs with Artesia trying to get an automatic berth. Norwalk had a 10-4-1 overall mark and was tied for first place with Bellflower after a 3-2 overtime win at Artesia this past Wednesday. Norwalk and Bellflower have 5-2 league records while Artesia was 9-11, 3-4 and in fifth place. In addition, Norwalk has swept the season series with Artesia. The next two Artesia games are against teams behind the Pioneers.
Valley Christian hasn’t played since Jan. 17 but is still rolling through Olympic League action with three shutout wins and five straight overall. The Crusaders (9-6-1, 3-0) visit Village Christian tonight and will make up a rained out game with Maranatha on Monday.
The hottest team remains Valley Christian, which has not allowed a goal in five straight games. The Lady Crusaders (12-3-3, 4-0) will host Village Christian today.
In the Suburban League, Artesia and Cerritos are battling for fourth place with some games yet to be made up because of the recent rains. Cerritos is sitting at 9-5-1, 3-3 while Artesia is sporting a 6-8-2, 2-4 mark. The two will meet today at Cerritos.
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