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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL – Cerritos teams have their way with undermanned John Glenn in pair of routs

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter • January 11. 2023

The young and relatively inexperienced Cerritos High boys basketball team has been patiently waiting until 605 League play began so it can prove that it is worthy of one of the three automatic berths for the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. The John Glenn High boys team was hoping for an encore from last season’s memorable and historic run through the playoffs, but instead, things have been going south.

The two met this past Tuesday night with something to prove and when the night was over, it was Cerritos pulling out a 65-33 win. The Dons (7-14 overall, 2-1 in league) scored the first 14 points of the game and held a double digit lead over the last three quarters.

“We’ve always said to be ready by January,” said Cerritos head coach Jonathan Watanabe. Entering 2023 we wanted to make sure we were ready to be able to compete at this, and we still need to get better in order to continue to compete for not only a league championship, but for the playoffs.”

After winning their first game of the season, the Dons lost 10 straight games. And of the 13 losses in preseason, four have come by five points or less. But against a Glenn team which was hoping for bigger and better things in the 2022-2023 campaign, there was no worry of a close contest. The Dons, who have never lost to Glenn since becoming Suburban League members in the late 1990s, saw junior Luke Rigor nail three perimeter shots in the opening quarter and junior Tobeanna Ozoagu grab five rebounds in the opening stanza. In fact, Cerritos had 13 rebounds just in the first quarter alone.

Meanwhile, Glenn (8-11, 0-3) began the season with eight players but has since lost two starters who left the team, including last season’s surprise transfer senior Sebastian Figueroa. The Eagles have had to call up two lower level players, but the scoring has decreased with the defection of the two starters.

“I’ve always been preaching to these guys since the day I got here about mental toughness,” said Glenn head coach Sam Abebe. “I was telling my guys there’s more to basketball than just about on the court. There’s a mental side to it too and unfortunately, my big concern [coming into the season] with the team was mental. Unfortunately, my biggest fear came to fruition. Guys just couldn’t handle it. Guys couldn’t handle the criticism; guys just couldn’t handle…little hills. Hills that should not have made us fold, but unfortunately, they did.”

“We prepare for the first group, but also for their system and what they run, so that way our players know what they’re doing,” said Watanabe. “Coach Abebe is dealing with a lot right now and he’s trying the best that he can and doing things the right way. Last year his kids responded and this year they’re having a little bit tougher time with it.

“But we just have to be prepared for whoever steps on the floor,” he added. “Those guys can all play. It just gives an opportunity for somebody else to step up.”

Glenn did not score until there was 3:24 left in the first quarter and found itself down 27-11 late in the first half. Although the Eagles were able to cut that deficit to 11 with 4:34 left in the third quarter on the second of consecutive baskets from senior Michael Saucedo, the Dons quickly went on an 8-0 run to maintain the big lead. 

The Eagles were paced by Saucedo, who has now taken on that leader’s role with Figueroa and senior Armando Arreola no longer on the team. Saucedo scored a game-high and season-high 22 points and had four rebounds while no other Glenn player had more than three points.

“We were right there in the first half down 12,” said Abebe. “But again, we don’t have a lot of scoring. It’s tough to find buckets and lucky for us, Michael has been the heart and soul of the program since the day I got here. He pushed through and did his best and unfortunately, the other guys couldn’t really knock their shots down.”

Rigor scored 13 points while Ozoagu added 12 points and nine rebounds as they and the other three starters didn’t play in the fourth quarter. But it was the stellar bench play that Watanabe has been impressed with. Sophomore Benson Cho had a team-high 15 points and six rebounds while sophomore Jaden Ribac pitched in with eight points, three steals, two assists and two rebounds. 

“Benson’s play is finally how we knew he could play,” said Watanabe. “I coached him last year as a freshman and he was our guy. I knew that he was capable of playing at the varsity level. It just took him a little [time to] adjust at the beginning.”

Prior to the contest, it was total domination by the Cerritos girls in a 64-4 rout, leaving the Dons at 8-9 overall and 2-1 in league play while Glenn dropped to 5-11, 0-3. It was the 22nd straight win over the Eagles with the last meeting between the two ending in a 66-4 affair.

Sophomore Ambar Multani led everyone with 12 points and had six rebounds while junior Mailee Dizon (nine points, three steals), senior Alexa Mina (eight points, three steals) and freshman Cameron Lacorte (eight points, four assists, three rebounds, three steals) also paced the Dons.

The lone baskets for Glenn came from sophomore Aaliyah Ramirez off an offensive rebound with 12.2 seconds left in the first quarter and from junior Janessa Leal with 5:33 left in the third quarter. 

Both Cerritos teams will visit Whitney High on Friday and Oxford Academy on Wednesday while both Glenn teams will go to Pioneer High on Friday before hosting Artesia High on Wednesday. In addition, the Glenn boys will visit Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary high on Saturday and the Cerritos girls will face Esperanza High on Saturday and go to Santa Margarita High on Tuesday.

“This is a big game; all the pressure is on them,” said Watanabe of Whitney “They’re favored to win and it’s their game to lose. So, we’ll go in there. They have a lot of experience and we’ll just go in there and put up a battle. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

“Unfortunately, we had a tough one against Oxford,” said Abebe. “We missed a point blank game-winning lay-up. But we are in it. We knew coming here that [Cerritos] is the kings of the block. We had to come here and we knew it was going to be tough. But Friday is Pioneer and it’s a big opportunity for us.

“But again, what can we get from other guys,” he continued. “That’s the question. I don’t need these guys getting 10-15 [points]. I need three or four from everybody. But we’ll see; we’re fighting. We’re still practicing every day and working hard.”