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BOYS BASKETBALL-La Mirada’s first blowout win comes at the expense of former Suburban League opponent

December 22, 2022

By Loren Kopff @LorenKopff on Twitter                                             

On paper, this wasn’t the most desirable matchup when La Mirada High, ranked second in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A poll, hosted Cerritos High, which ended a 10-game losing streak last Saturday against Villa Park High. But both teams needed a single game to fill their schedules and if anything, this could be used as a tune-up for league season, which begins in the first week of January.

The Matadores went wire to wire, leading by 13 points at the end of the first quarter, then using a barrage of three-pointers in the second quarter to run away with an 83-48 victory over their ex-Suburban League counterparts this past Tuesday. La Mirada, who was 6-9 last season through the first 15 games, improved to 10-5. The teams had not faced each other since Jan. 31, 2018, a 68-67 La Mirada win, but the teams had split the last four meetings before the reacquaintance.

“We respect any opponent,” said La Mirada head coach Randy Oronoz. “Actually, [Cerritos head] coach [Jonathan] Watanabe took our single late, so I appreciate him for that for sure. They have a young group of kids and he put them through the ringer early. So, they’re just going to get better and experienced. 

“They told me they’re doing this for them to get ready for their league as well,” he continued. ‘Hats off to them. We’re hard to guard when we shoot it that well; we understand that. But it was a well-needed blowout because we’ve had some tough games in the early season.”

Sophomore Julien Gomez, one of the top players in Southern California and possibly the state, was on fire in the opening stanza, connecting on his first four shots for 10 points, coming up with three steals and grabbing a pair of rebounds. Gomez, who has already scored at least 30 points in seven games, including a career-high 44 points against St. Anthony High in the fourth game of the season, finished with 16 points while sitting out the fourth quarter.

“Julien works really hard to get better,” said Oronoz. “For a kid who scored 10 more points than he did the year before is a pretty phenomenal jump. But Julien is not our only player. When other players are going, we’re hard to beat.”

While Gomez and senior Sean Cervantes (six points) dominated in the opening quarter, it was the Athan Sierra show in the next eight minutes. The senior was four of five from the field, all coming beyond the arc, added another one in the third quarter and finished with a game-high 18 points. He too did not play in the fourth quarter. Cervantes finished with 10 points while junior Michael Torres and freshman Tristan Partida each added nine points off the bench with the latter adding another three perimeter shots to La Mirada’s total of 13. All 11 players who suited up scored at least a point, including six of the seven bench players, who combined for 28 points. As a team, the Matadores were 32 of 57 from the field and eight of 10 from the free throw line.

“Our bench stepped up,” said Oronoz. “I always tell myself I’m not going to schedule as hard and every year it seems as if the teams get harder and harder. A lot of these bench players would be role players on other teams. I’m so happy for this game [for them] to get into a flow and to be able to just get on the court.

“They work their butt off just like our starters do,” he added. “Let’s not get that twisted. Nothing is handed to them either. So, for them to have the resilience to stick with it and show up everyday and do our weight training…it’s always nice to have a game like this where they can be rewarded for their efforts.”

La Mirada will face Leuzinger High on Monday in bracket play of the Damien Classic while Cerritos (2-11), which was led by senior Chase Rambaran (nine points), senior Dominic DelaCruz (eight points, three steals) and junior Shey Pema (eight points), went to city and ABC Unified School District rival Gahr High on Dec. 22 ahead of its action in the Orange Tournament next week. The Dons will have pool play games against St. Margaret’s High on Monday, Nevada-based Boulder City High on Tuesday and Orange High on Wednesday.