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605 LEAGUE BOYS BASKETBALL: Cerritos gets revenge with home victory over Pioneer, claim second 605 League championship

The Cerritos High boys basketball team won its second straight 605 League title and the program’s sixth overall following a 68-39 win over Pioneer High last Friday night.

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Two seasons into the 605 League and it’s clear to see which boys basketball program will have a target on its back for the top spot. Cerritos High won its second straight league title after blasting Pioneer High 68-39 lest Friday. 

For added measure, the Dons would romp Oxford Academy 81-37 this past Tuesday to improve to 20-7 overall, 9-0 in the circuit. The only league blemish for Cerritos in two seasons was a 48-40 loss to Pioneer last season, which spoiled Faculty Night. But since then, the Dons have won 16 straight league contests entering its Feb. 6 meeting at Whitney High.

“It’s exciting,” said Cerritos co-head coach Jonathan Watanabe. “The number will go up later [on the banner], but one of our goals still has not been met yet. But it’s partially there. We wanted to win league, but we do want to go undefeated. We have two more games against teams who play hard. Oxford [Academy] and Whitney both go hard. They’re definitely not going to just give it to us.”

Seniors Eric Clark, who sat out last season after transferring from Los Alamitos High, and Jagger Uy each scored 19 points with Clark also grabbing 10 rebounds and collecting three assists.

“It feels amazing, man,” Clark said. “It feels good to come back a year after…just ready to get my team ready for the playoffs and push through [it].”

Cerritos dominated early in the game, holding a 14-4 advantage with 2:55 left in the first quarter. The Titans would rally and trail by a bucket after Mathew Lopez scored almost two minutes into the second quarter, which ended an 11-3 run. But the Dons, ranked eighth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA poll, made sure that would be the last time the Titans would make a big rally. Over the final four and half minutes of the half, Cerritos went on a 12-2 run, then outscored the second place team in the league 23-5 in the third quarter to lead 52-22.

“I think in the beginning of the second quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter, our defense got loose,” Watanabe said. “I think that was the biggest thing. I think we got a little bit of a lead and the guys got a little comfortable; kind of felt like, ‘hey, we’re okay’. Against a team that plays hard, you can’t do that. You have to play every play.”

Even with that 30-point lead, Pioneer refused to let the game get to a running clock situation as it scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter. But in the end, it was too much Cerritos, which won its sixth league championship. Before moving into the 605 League, the last time Cerritos finished in first place was 1997. And for Clark, who has started all but one game this season, it’s the second straight double-digit scoring game and 12thon the season. The 19 points was one shy of his career high.

“He’s awesome,” Watanabe said. “And, not just as a basketball player. But he’s a just a great chemistry guy. The students love him, the staff loves him. He always has a smile on his face, and he can bring it and he works. He’s become a solid defender [and] he knows what to do offensively. He’s very unselfish, so that helps a lot. But coming into a situation where you’re coming from another school, sometimes it’s hard.”

“My performance is just to get better each day,” Clark said. “I’ve been training my whole life just getting better at that. I’ve been putting in a lot of work outside of school. Missing [last year] was tough, so I had to come back strong and just put everything through each possession every time and day by day get better.”

Not only did the boys win its second straight league crown, the girls won their fourth in the last six seasons, marking just the second time in school history that both Cerritos team won a league title in the same season. The other time came in 1997 when Cerritos was part of the Mission Valley League. Prior to the last game of the regular season, Watanabe has posted 291 wins in 19 seasons while Marcus Chinen, the head coach of the Lady Dons, has won 114 games in six seasons.

“Especially having my cousin coaching the girls team, that’s pretty special,” Watanabe said. “When he first took over the job, we had talked about it. I think he won it in his first year and we were able to win it a little bit after that. But I guess it never lined up. That’s awesome; I didn’t even realize that.”