A big goal in the second quarter followed by a 3-point clutch shoot-out in the fourth quarter put the Esperanza boys’ basketball team 59-52 past Keppel in the second round of Friday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs.
Esperanza (19-11) now plays the winner of Beaumont-Troy in Tuesday’s quarterfinals with a chance to qualify for the CIF State Playoffs.
“It was huge,” said Esperanza coach Anthony Ballestero of his players’ performances. “Our boys came out and played hard for 32 minutes. It was fantastic.”
Esperanza was managed by seniors Jaxson LaGraffe and Ryan Huston. LaGraffe scored a game-high 17 points. Huston scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double. He knocked down five 3-pointers. Two of those came during a 15-0 run early in the second quarter. Two more came in the fourth quarter when he helped halt a late Keppel surge.
The Aztecs were 15-12 behind Keppel early in the second quarter before that 15-0 run gave them a 12-point lead. Huston started the scoring run by calmly sinking a 3 at the top of the button to level the game at 15. Moments later, he hit a 3 from 21 feet to give Esperanza an 18-15 lead. It was a lead the team never gave up. LaGraffe later hit a 3 to give Esperanza a 25-15 lead.
Esperanza held Keppel to just three points in the second half, and that came via a Kyle Tam 3-pointer with just 58 seconds remaining before halftime to reduce Esperanza’s lead to nine.
“Esperanza is solid,” said Keppel coach Hung Duong. “We saw her on film and knew we had cut out our work for ourselves. They run their stuff really well. They are strong and really well conditioned. I think today we just didn’t have enough condition.”
Keppel was 27-18 behind at halftime and 41-32 at the start of the fourth quarter. At the beginning of the third period, Keppel fell 43:32 behind, but did not walk away calmly. A 9-2 run cut the Esperanza lead to 45-41 with 5:15 left. It was led by James Preciado, who hit two 3s that run. Tam hit a layup and a free throw during the run after being fouled to cap an old-school three-point play.
However, Keppel did not come any closer. On Esperanza’s next possession after Keppel cut the lead to four, Huston sank a 3 to give the Aztecs a seven lead. That sparked a 9-2 run from Esperanza to bring the Aztecs back up to 11 with 54:43 and 1:51 minutes remaining. Another 3 from Huston was the end of the book for that run that ultimately sealed the game for Esperanza.
“[Huston]coming out and hitting those big shots for us was great,” Ballestero said. “He’s really a catalyst for us on offense.”
Zach Rentch added 11 points and 10 rebounds for Esperanza, coming off the bench.
“(Rentch) is on the starting lineup for us and not again, but he’s always playing starting minutes for us,” Rentch said. “(Ethan Ly) is a hell of a player and (Rentch) came in and shut down (Ly) as much as possible.”
Esperanza hit 10 3-pointers and dominated the boards by passing Keppel 46-28.
“Our gym isn’t an easy place to shoot, so we hoped[Esperanza]wouldn’t make it,” Duong said. “But they hit a lot of 3s. If you give up 10 3s, it’s hard to win.”
Keppel (20-9) was led by Ly, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Darrin Chung scored 14 points while Tam and Preciado had nine each.
Keppel finished the season with a second place finish in the Almont League. Duong said he was proud of his players who won 20 games. He said he wasn’t sure if that would happen as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the previous two seasons. Duong is also optimistic about his team next season as both Ly and Tam will return.
“I like our chances to win the league,” said Duong. “I think it’s pretty solid next year. We have a good group of at least five kids coming back.”
https://www.ocregister.com/2023/02/10/keppel-cant-keep-up-with-esperanza-falls-in-second-round-of-boys-basketball-playoffs/ Keppel can’t keep up with Esperanza, drops to second round of boys’ basketball playoffs – Orange County Register