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ACADEMY LEAGUE BOYS BASKETBALL: Whitney boys hold on for fifth victory despite blowing another first quarter lead


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


The Whitney High boys basketball team has played three home games in less than two weeks and each time, the Wildcats had built a first quarter lead. The first two times, against Sage Hill High on Jan. 3 and last Friday against Oxford Academy, the ‘Cats lost those contests.

But, first-year head coach Glenn Gates, who cited mental fatigue for the breakdown after gaining those double-digit leads, can breathe a sigh of relief as Whitney had a 6-0 lead within the first minute of the game, lost the lead, then regained it in the fourth quarter to edge Calvary Chapel Downey 44-42 this past Tuesday evening. Whitney improved to 5-15 overall and 2-3 in the Academy League.

“It’s tough,” Gates said. “It’s a developmental process and the kids are learning game by game, practice by practice. This is like the new way of playing. So, we have to change some things around. But the kids responded today, and I have to commend them for responding today.”

A bucket from senior Heaven Flores with 2:42 remaining in the first quarter gave the hosts a 10-5 lead. But they wouldn’t score for the next 4:30, missing seven straight shots and seeing the Grizzlies storm back to take a 13-10 lead almost two minutes into the second quarter. Whitney would finish off the half on a 10-4 run thanks to Flores, who scored a pair of baskets, and freshman Jeffrey Fernandez, who was perfect on all three attempts from the field.

But the erratic play continued for Whitney, which had scoreless streaks of close to four minutes in the second quarter and nearly three minutes in the third quarter. The latter came after the Wildcats had built a 29-23 lead only to see it dwindle to a two-point deficit.

“What I thought we did well today was we played protecting defense,” Gates said. “I thought we did a really good job defensively. To be truly honest, this week was about getting our defense better. And what I thought today was making good shots, bringing the shot clock down and playing solid defense.”

However, the Wildcats ended the third quarter with a basket from junior Joshua Chung to tie the contest. Then 30 seconds into the final stanza, an offensive rebound and basket from junior Jonan Baladjay gave the hosts a lead they would not relinquish Those two baskets were followed by two more and with 4:59 remaining in the game, Whitney was up 39-33.

Flores sealed the victory with 1:55 left when he drained a three-pointer off a pass from Baladjay. Aaron Jovel answered back with a downtown shot with 42.9 seconds left. But an inbound violation gave the ball to Whitney and the Grizzlies were unable to get another good shot off. Flores scored a game-high 15 points and had six rebound and two steals while Fernandez added 10 points on five of seven shooting. Baladjay chipped in with nine points, three rebounds and three assists and junior Adi Jahic pitched in with nine points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.

“Since we brought him up from the j.v. squad at the beginning of the year, I knew we had something,” Gates said of Fernandez. “He’s been working really, really hard and I thought this was one of those games where he was like, ‘I need to get more minutes, coach’. And he did a good job of showing that he can handle the pressure.”

Whitney will visit St. Margaret’s High tonight to end the first round of league play before travelling to Sage Hill Tuesday for a rematch that is a winnable game for the Wildcats. In the Jan. 3 affair, Whitney had a 28-14 lead with 5:33 left in the second quarter and were up by three with 5.6 seconds remaining in regulation. Against Oxford Academy, the Wildcats scored the first 10 points of the game and still led midway through the third quarter before the Patriots went on a 29-8 run to end the game. Gates know that his record is misleading, and that Whitney could have easily been 7-13 overall and 4-1 in the circuit. Still, he believes his team can finish in the upper half of the league.

“Very, and the kids know that,” Gates said. “I just think that the mindset, and I’m hoping they’ll get past that, is that 4-1 mindset. We’re not at that mindset yet where we’re a 4-1 team. We’re still at the 1-4 team. We’re trying to jump that and…I’m actually glad we got a win today. We have a really tough game [tonight], then we get a chance to see everybody over again.”