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BOYS BASKETBALL – Gahr snaps four-game losing streak to depleted Cerritos squad

December 29, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


The annual city rivalry between the Cerritos High and Gahr High boys basketball teams took an unfortunate turn in the wrong direction when they met at Cerritos last Thursday. Like most teams around, Cerritos was hit hard by Covid and out of a team of 17 players, was able to suit up only seven.

Cerritos first-year co-head coach Lance Convento found out on Dec. 21 that the team had a Covid case. Other players and their parents weren’t comfortable playing against the Gladiators and another player was on a trip. Despite being short-handed, the Dons played Gahr as tight as they could in the first half, only to succumb 68-55.

“We’re just rolling with who we’ve got,” Convento said. “I trust all our guys on the team; it’s the reason why they made the varsity team. We trust everybody to step up when they need to. And honestly, this is one of our best games this season. With just seven guys, I thought we competed pretty well. They showed a lot of heart, they didn’t give up and played a solid, pretty good team.”

Convento added that he thought about postponing the game but as long as he had at least five players, the team was going to play. The Dons were to have played Whittier Christian High, a replacement opponent for Price High having to cancel its Dec. 18 game with Cerritos. But the players weren’t feeling comfortable having to play a day before the Gahr contest.

Gahr and head coach Richard Roper had lost four straight to the Dons but the Gladiators closed out the opening quarter on a 12-1 run to lead 19-9, highlighted by freshman Dillon Chelsea’s coast to coast buzzer-beater basket. Since 1999, and including seven tournament games, Gahr now leads the series 17-13, but the teams have split the last 12 at Cerritos.

“I really wasn’t thinking about that,” Roper said on the losing streak. “I feel bad for them that they didn’t have their full team. So, we were just trying to come out, compete and get better.”

Consecutive baskets from senior Jayden Thomas early in the second quarter gave the visitors from the north side of town their largest lead of the half, 24-11. But the young Dons refused to go away that quick and went on a 5-0 run in a 26-second span, and even when Gahr padded its lead back to 12 points, Cerritos bounced back to trail by six points at the half.

Senior Matthew Gray dominated the first quarter with eight rebounds while six of the seven players scored in the 20-point second quarter with senior Armand Soriano collecting seven points.

“This is definitely one of our best starts coming out in the first quarter,” Convento said. “So, I’m definitely proud of them. I think we’re definitely starting to build and find some chemistry; figuring out our style of play and I think it’s starting to come together finally. There are definitely high hopes for the [league] season coming up and the [Orange] Tournament next week. I just want to build off this.”

“They played hard; you have to give them credit,” Roper said. “They came out and played hard.”

Gahr made sure there wouldn’t be enough time for the Dons to stage another rally in the second half, scoring the first eight points including back to back downtown shots from Thomas and senior Daniel Okoro. After Cerritos senior Landon Loo’s trifecta ended the scoring drought, Gahr went on a 10-6 run over the final half of the third quarter to comfortably lead 53-38 heading into the final stanza. Thomas led everyone with 19 points while Chelsea had 13 points and Okoro and junior Kane Young each pitched in with 11 points.

“We just came out and had some better energy,” Roper said. “I thought Kane made some good plays in the fourth quarter. Jayden was ready to shoot, so that was good.”

Gahr competed in the Nogales Tournament, which began this past Monday, and knocked off Upland High 86-83 to improve to 10-5. The Gladiators were to have played La Serna High this past Tuesday, but the Lancers had to withdraw from the tournament. After a scheduled game against Don Lugo High this past Wednesday and the conclusion of the tournament on Dec. 30, Gahr will begin San Gabriel Valley League play on Wednesday at Downey High.

“It’s just been such a crazy year,” Roper said. “Everything is so different from week to week. So, we’re just trying to take it a day at a time and trying to figure stuff out. We’re playing with good pace. We have a good tempo going right now.”

Meanwhile, senior Brendon Dela Pena paced Cerritos with 16 points while Loo and Soriano had 11 and 10 points respectively. Gray added nine points and grabbed 16 rebounds as the Dons were in the 56th annual Orange Tournament where they fell to the host school 50-40 this past Monday as Soriano posted 20 points and seven rebounds. The loss left Cerritos at 2-11 as it was scheduled to play Boulder City (NV) High this past Tuesday. The Dons were down to six players but became at least the second team in the eight-team tournament to drop out because of Covid issues. The Dons are scheduled to host Oxford Academy on Tuesday in the 605 League opener.