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ST. JOHN BOSCO BRAVES VARSITY WINTER CLASSIC – La Mirada fades at end of third quarter, falls to host school in semifinals

December 10, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

BELLFLOWER-La Mirada High’s boys basketball team has faced every challenge thrown its way this season and has done quite well for the most part. Heading into their semifinal contest against St. John Bosco High last Friday in the Braves Varsity Winter Classic, the Matadores had faced three CIF-Southern Section Division 1 teams, defeating two of them by a combined six points while falling to Harvard-Westlake High by 16 points.

But against the Braves, the fourth Division 1 opponent on La Mirada’s schedule, the ninth ranked team in the division saw the contest get away late in the third quarter, and the Matadores fell 79-60.

“In that third, it kind of ballooned up a little bit,” said La Mirada head coach Randy Oronoz. “Teams like that, we know you can’t make too many mistakes and too many turnovers. We fouled a three-point shooter for a four-point play. It was just big mistakes for us.”

The Matadores, who led once in the game, which came on the game’s first basket 18 seconds in, clawed their way back to trail 46-45 on a pair of free throws from freshman Gene Roebuck with 1:55 remaining in the third quarter. However, the Braves, thanks to the stellar play of Brandon McCoy Jr., closed the quarter on an 11-2 run with the backbreaker coming with 0.2 seconds left. That’s when McCoy Jr. was fouled by junior Julien Gomez as he connected on his second three-pointer of the game and sank the subsequent free throw. Jack Turner would begin the fourth quarter with a basket and just like that, the one-point deficit turned into a 12-point hole in a matter of 2:55.

“We have a resilient group,” said Oronoz. “It was unfortunate it happened because we thought we would go into the fourth quarter [down] single digits.”

La Mirada trailed anywhere form a point to five points until St. John Bosco closed out the opening quarter on an 8-0 run to lead 21-11. Gomez was on fire early on, scoring seven points in the first quarter on just four shots taken from the field. La Mirada would go on a mini run late in the second quarter as junior M.J. Smith had a basket and sank a pair of free throws and senior Michael Torres added a free throw. But the Matadores ended the half connecting on one of their final five shots taken and were nine of 25 from the field in the half.

Gomez and Roebuck would head into halftime with nine points each, but that’s where things would change for both players. The former would be limited to four shots taken in the second half and scored just two points while the freshman sensation showed why he’s one of the top ninth graders in Southern California. Roebuck was four of eight from the field and scored nine points in the third quarter and ended the game with 33 points, going 15 of 18 from the free throw line.

“He struggled a little bit [in the second half],” said Oronoz of Gomez. “Julien has been so consistent for us that when he has a game like that, it kind of makes everyone scratch their head. He’s a heck of a player, so I’m sure he’s on everyone’s scouting report. But respect to Gene just being a freshman to be able to carry the load to keep us in it. We know if we can get both of those guys on the same page, we’re capable of beating anyone.”

While the Matadores were trying to make a comeback in the third quarter, the Braves were doing their part to hold onto their lead. Both teams went back and forth for the first five minutes as the La Mirada’s deficit would be anywhere from five to eight points. But the final three minutes of the stanza would play a big part in how the game would finish.

“When you have a deficit like that, you can’t just trade baskets,” said Oronoz. “That’s what they’re hoping to do. Most teams don’t have players like Gene or even Julien that can actually trade baskets with them. We were just hoping for a couple of stops to make a run. But shout out to their guard; they have multiple collegiate guards out there that made multiple collegiate plays when it was needed.”

La Mirada was held to nine baskets again in the second half and had more free throws (24) than baskets (18). Smith had 10 rebounds and six points while Torres added five points and three boards. But the story continues to be on Roebuck and the start of his high school career. He finished with a career-high 33 points and has reached double figures in every game played.

“Special; he’s special,” said Oronoz. “I’ve been saying it since I’ve seen him in the summertime. The stuff he does is the next level, and I’m not just talking college. He does some stuff with his footwork, with his body, with his bumps. He works like he’s hungry to get better and I’m just very excited. Even though it was a loss, he had a great game.”

The Matadores would bounce back to defeat Long Beach Poly High 78-64 last Saturday to claim third place in the tournament and put them at 11-2 as they visit St. Pius X-St. Matthias High on Friday. This is the best start through 13 games that Oronoz has had as La Mirada’s head coach. The 2008-2009, 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 teams won nine of their first 11 contests. 

“We’re just trying to play good competition and get better every game,” said Oronoz. “We don’t look at the next couple of games. We’re trying to take it one game at a time. I don’t do us any favors scheduling, but that’s why these kids work so hard. I’m definitely disappointed with the loss today, but very excited with the way our team was fighting early on in the first 12 games. Hopefully, we can get our point guard back and just be whole as a team and really start going after some of these teams.”