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605 LEAGUE BOYS BASKETBALL: Cerritos nips depleted Artesia squad, catches Pioneers for second place

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

When the 2018-2019 high school basketball season began in the middle of November, the Artesia High boys squad had a dozen players. But recent subtractions due to various reasons have plagued the Pioneers lately, even though the team took a four-game winning streak into its home contest with Cerritos High last Friday night.

The Pioneers, who dressed eight players against the Dons, had a chance to stay in a tie for first place in the 605 League with Pioneer High, but Cerritos, which had built an 11-point lead late in the third quarter before losing it in the fourth, won the game 47-46 as junior Gavin Carothers sank a pair of free throws with 1:26 left to play.. Artesia had scored 11 straight points in a span of 3:39 between the third and fourth quarters and took a three-point advantage with 4:19 left in the game.

But the buzz for the past week centered on certain players no longer with the team as Cerritos head coach Jonathan Watanabe and his players were picking up information about it as several kids know each other around the area. He said he felt it was somewhat of a distraction because he didn’t know how to set up a game plan for that game.

“Difficult, very difficult,” Watanabe said. “The way they run their stuff…it shouldn’t be that different, but it’s hard. You have to imagine, how many weapons they have. They have about four or five guys that were probably in a rotation not playing anymore. And some of these other guys…they have some good players over here. I saw them late in December and I knew we were going to have our hands full. We were fortunate to escape this with a win.”

“We just have to move on and play,” said Artesia head coach Ray Walker. “Sometimes kids make poor decisions and then we have to handle those decisions, and we did that. So, we’re moving on with the guys we have and we’ll be fine. It was just a tough one today.”

Both teams went back and forth in the first quarter with neither leading by more than three points. There were six lead changes and when the stanza had ended, the Dons were up 15-12. The second quarter would be a different story as Artesia’s shooting went cold, connecting twice in 11 attempts from the field. Meanwhile, Cerritos continued to build its lead, thanks to five points from junior Luke Castrence and an 8-0 run in which junior Ethan Reyes had a pair of assists.

Most of Artesia’s offense in the first half came from an unlikely source as freshman Tyler Miller, who began the season on varsity for a little bit before going to the junior varsity team, scored 12 of his 14 points before halftime. He was four of seven from the field and had a rebound and steal in the half.

“We had him earlier in the year when we didn’t have the football players,” Walker said. “[Then] we put him down [on the junior varsity team] so he could get more playing time. Now is a good time and a good opportunity to play [him] a lot. He’s a very talented player.”

Then in the third quarter, both teams traded four three-pointers until Artesia began its rally with the 11-0 run. Part of Artesia’s success in the third quarter was the play of junior Jeremiah Charles, who came off the bench to score eight points and grab a pair of rebounds. But he wasn’t done there, adding another eight points in the fourth quarter with four more rebounds.

“You have to credit [Charles] for them,” Watanabe said. “He was awesome; he brought them back. They played better with Heder off the floor. They did a great job of coming together. I know they’re dealing with a lot of stuff right now, but they played really well. We’re just trying to get by. We have to pick up our defense [and] we have to play better.”

Charles was six of 11 from the field in the second half and was the offensive spark the Pioneers were looking for as last season’s leading scorer, senior Heder Gladden, was held to two points and eight rebounds.

“I thought we played our game plan against him perfect,” Watanabe said. “But we couldn’t guard anybody else. We can’t just have one defender. We have to have five guys defending on the floor if we want to do anything. That was our problem on Tuesday [against Pioneer] and it was a problem again today. So, we have to fix it to get better.”

“I’m very proud of our guys,” Walker said. “They could have folded a little bit because Heder is kind of our leader in regard to scoring points and things like that. We really stepped up and defended better and then we put balls in the basket and shared the ball and we really did a good job when he wasn’t in there to steady the ship.”

Cerritos junior Jagger Uy had a key three-pointer with 1:55 left in the game to give Cerritos a 45-43 lead. But senior Sebastian Otero scored on a three-point play for his only points of the game 11 seconds later to put the Pioneers back in front at 46-45. A pair of Cerritos players would miss the front end of one and one situations with less than 40 seconds to play and Charles missed what would have been a buzzer-beating three-pointer from the left wing.

“That’s tough; we had some good looks,” Walker said. “We missed a lot of free throws tonight too, that put us in the hole.”

Reyes and senior Donte Burnett each led Cerritos with eight points and seven rebounds while sophomore Obinna Ene added seven points and four rebounds off the bench. The Dons, who also knocked off Oxford Academy 56-47 this past Tuesday to improve to 11-11 overall and 4-1 in league, travels to Whitney High tonight and John Glenn High on Tuesday.

“As far as league championship, this was huge,” Watanabe said. “If we didn’t win tonight, we might have been too far behind [and] we definitely would have needed help. But we needed this one.”

The Pioneers (14-9, 4-1) also received 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists from senior Leroy Gladden. They defeated Pioneer High 59-46 this past Tuesday night to force a three-way tie for first place and will host Oxford Academy tonight before going to Whitney on Tuesday.

“I think it’s fun being in this league,” Walker said. “We have an opportunity on Tuesday; we play Pioneer who is obviously a good basketball team. So, we have to come out and hopefully we can get them and even this thing up and not worry about third place at the end of the first round.”