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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL – Cerritos boys becoming the kings of three-year old league, capture first place again


May 20, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

When a new league forms, someone has to set the standards of being the team to beat in a particular sport; a team that everyone else circles on their calendars as its biggest one of that season and is looking forward to playing. The Cerritos High boys basketball team has become the one that the other five members of the 605 League has been itching to knock off from the top spot since the formation of the league at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

The Dons clinched their third straight league title by edging Pioneer High 47-46 last Friday night, sweeping the Titans this season and running their three-year league record to 27-1. Prior to the game, the Dons had been beating league opponents by an average score of 66.5-56.5, but the win over the Titans was the third of the 28 league games decided by less than 10 points.

“It’s just all the hard work our kids do,” said Cerritos co-head coach Kevin Enomoto. “They put in the work every year, and this year was a little different. We didn’t have the whole year to work. But when we started our season back in March, they were all there ready to put the work in. I credit them. The seniors did a good job today kind of finishing this game. When they were freshmen, they lost to Pioneer when they were on the freshmen team. We kind of had a feeling that in four years, this was going to be a good game, and it really was.”

“When we made the switch [from the Suburban League], it was like new teams to play,” said Cerritos senior guard Alexander Archer. “So, it was just getting a win every night. It may not be the best competition, but you don’t want to drop a game. You just want to keep [the notion of] every night is a new game; just come in and try to get a win.”

Cerritos lost to the Titans 48-40 in the third game of the inaugural season of the league and in the next game, it edged Artesia 47-46. Since then, the Dons have scored at least 50 points in every league contest until last Friday night.

The Dons scored the first seven points of the game and extended their lead to 11 points on a free throw from sophomore Andrew Hartman with 1:35 left in the first quarter. Pioneer would chip away and when Matthew Lopez hit a three-pointer with 4:48 remaining in the first half, the game was knotted at 16-16. Cerritos closed out the half on a 7-4 run and would maintain a single-digit lead for the rest of the game.

The momentum the Dons had in the final minutes of the first half carried over into the beginning of the second half as seniors Obinna Ene and Brian Lee combined for the team’s first nine points to extend the lead to 32-24, the largest advantage the hosts had in the second half.

One big factor in the game came in the rebounding department where the Dons were dominate throughout the 32 minutes, grabbing 43 boards. Ene had a dozen rebounds to go along with eight points while Archer added 11 rebounds and led the team with 10 points. Hartman also had 10 points and three rebounds. All five starters had at least one rebound and Lee, who came off the bench to score seven points, pitched in with four rebounds.

“A lot of shots were put up today because both teams were itching to get a win today,” Archer said. “We’re the small in our division for playoffs, so we just work on boxing out and fighting for every loose ball and fighting for every rebound.”

“It’s something that we always talk about; making sure we block out and get the boards,” Enomoto said of the rebounding. “They do a good job of going after rebounds and especially against a team like Pioneer, where they have guys going after rebounds as well. The first time we played them, that’s how they scored a lot of their points; off putbacks, and we had to make sure they didn’t get any easy ones today.”

Cerritos was up 39-36 entering the fourth quarter, but both teams would alternate baskets, and two free throws from Hartman for most of the stanza as the lead was never greater than five points. With 54.6 seconds left, Ene scored on a pass from Archer to make it 47-42. But 10 seconds later, Gabriel Rios made it a one-possession contest. A turnover with 31.6 seconds remaining allowed the Titans to set up for at least a game-tying three pointer. Instead, Maxwell Rodriguez-Smith scored a two-pointer with 5.6 seconds left before Pioneer called a timeout. By now, it would have been tough for the Titans to get the ball back because they had only four team fouls in the half and would foul two more times in the waning seconds before getting any chance of Cerritos potentially missing a free throw.

“Basically, we needed to play with poise,” Enomoto told his team at the last Pioneer timeout. “We have to understand that when the game is on the line, we have to play with poise. We have to trust each other; we just have to play the game and finish it.”

“They were getting a lot of steals because early on, we were making bad passes,” Archer said. “So, it was just about every time they score, just try to slow the ball down, keep control of the game and keep everybody poised so we don’t drop this one.”

Cerritos blasted John Glenn High 71-31 this past Tuesday night to improve to 10-3 overall, 9-0 in league as it ended the regular season at home on May 20 against Oxford Academy. The CIF-Southern Section basketball playoff brackets will be released on Sunday morning as the Dons are expected to get a Division 2AA first round home game on Wednesday.

Prior to the game, the Lady Dons kept Pioneer from running the tables in league action and avenged an earlier 23-point loss by holding off a furious late rally to come away with a 55-49 victory. Coupled with a 38-31 win at Glenn this past Tuesday night, followed by a 38-32 setback to Whitney High the next night, Cerritos saw its overall mark go to 7-7 and its league record to 6-3, good enough for third place. The loss was the first for Pioneer in eight league contests.

Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen said the win over the leaders of the league can give his team a lot of confidence going into next week’s playoffs, but added that the team can’t be overconfident yet because the team of no seniors is still learning how each other plays and they’re still trying to get the rotation right.

In the first meeting on Apr. 27, the Titans routed the Lady Dons 78-55, but were clinging to a 19-15 advantage after the first quarter. The rematch would be a completely different story as Cerritos began on a 13-2 tear and led 14-5 after the opening stanza. After Pioneer cut into the lead with six straight points to begin the second quarter, Cerritos went on a 12-2 run to lead by 13 points, highlighted by a steal and basket from junior Jasmine Uy with 1:46 left in the half. Midway in the quarter, she would score off a steal and assist from junior Michelle Lee. Uy would score 17 of her game-high 23 points in the first half.

“That is the key to pretty much most of the games we’ve played,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “If you get out to a fast start and you can maintain that lead, it can determine the outcome of any game.”

“I think just by having a veteran out there…we have no seniors on the team, so somebody is going to have to step up,” Chinen later said of Uy. “And whether it’s a junior or a sophomore, someone would have to step up. I think once she stepped up and she took the leadership spot on the court at that time, I think everyone started playing with a little bit more confidence.”

Cerritos had what seemed to be a comfortable 15-point lead at the half and maintained that double-digit lead throughout most of the third quarter. But the Titans owned the fourth quarter and cut their deficit to four points with 3:31 left in the game. The Lady Dons would get baskets from freshman Mia Rivera and Uy over the next two minutes to make it a seven-point advantage at 50-43. But Pioneer refused to go away and when Aubry Saleapaga scored off a turnover with 30.7 seconds left, it was 50-48. Cerritos, though, would ice the game on free throws.

“We kept telling the girls that they needed to dig in and dig in,” Chinen said. “I think it’s the same thing their coach would say as we were down; to chip away and chip away at it and just don’t try to get it back in chunks.

“We actually needed to settle ourselves down to stay composed,” Chinen later said. “Other than that, if we went out there and just went at their speed, the game could have changed around really quick.”

Freshman sensation Onyeka Nwanze scored a dozen points and grabbed 14 rebounds while Rivera and junior Madhuri Suresh both came off the bench to score six points. Also scoring six points and adding four steals and three rebounds was sophomore Emily Hosoda. For Pioneer, Saleapaga led the way with 21 points, all but three coming in the second half.

“She is a really good player, so we have to keep her in front and just try to contain her,” Chinen said. “She can create for her own and I don’t think our girls are used to that type of player.”

Cerritos hosted Oxford Academy on May 20 in the league finale and will also visit Corona Del Mar High on Saturday.

“I think this time we stepped it up on the defensive side,” Chinen said. “I think last time, I don’t know if we were too worried about scoring or keeping up with them. They are a fast team; they’re in pretty good condition. So, to try to keep that up the entire game, we get winded and at that time, I believe they were actually in really good shape.”