Congrats to Keppel and coach Hung Duong for reaching Friday’s semifinals against Pasadena. Keppel was always one of my favorite teams to cover when I was in Pasadena, they play hard, they play smart, and with the talent they have now, I’m guessing they’re gonna give PHS all they can handle. — Fred J.
By Fred J. Robledo
BALDWIN PARK — The Keppel High School boys basketball team got exactly what it wanted against host Baldwin Park during Wednesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 2A quarterfinal – another strong effort from junior twins Jordan and Justin Young, and a near flawless performance from point guard Timmy Wong.
But as Aztecs coach Hung Duong explained it, when senior guard Sam Thim is on his game too, the Aztecs are nearly unbeatable, which was the case as Thim poured in 28 points to lead the third-seed Aztecs to a 77-63 victory, sending them to Friday’s semifinals against second-seed Pasadena at Muir High School.
Jordan Young finished with 19 points and Justin Young 13, but Thim was 4-for-7 from 3-point range, and 7-for-10 overall, which simply proved too much for the Braves to deal with.
“When Sam goes off if complements everyone else,” Duong said. “It opens up the inside game, it allows our guards to penetrate. When he’s knocking down shots, we’re just an extremely difficult team to defend.
“We didn’t want to just settle for jump shots tonight. We wanted to drive and get shots at the basket. It’s hard going on the road and trying to win with perimeter shots, so I thought we did a good job of using our size advantage and hitting timely shots when we needed them.
“But give Baldwin Park credit, they played their hearts out and hit a lot of big shots too. We had to play the way we did to beat them.”
The Braves (24-5) were making their first quarterfinal appearance since 1984 and jumped out to the perfect start, leading 11-3 after Jimmy Ramirez’s three-pointer with 4:59 left in the opening quarter.
But the Aztecs (24-5) closed the quarter on a 10-3 run and scored the first nine points of the second quarter to take a 22-13 lead.
But the Braves, who received 15 points from Fernie Morelos and 12 points apiece from Joey De La Torre and Eddie Gamboa, climbed back to trail just 36-34 at half.
In fact, the Braves trailed just 49-45 with less than four minutes left in the third when Thim hit back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the Aztecs’ lead to 55-45, which turned into a 60-47 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“That (back-to-back 3-pointers) let the air out of our sails a little bit,” Braves coach Marc Hart said. “We had to pressure even more, which allowed more space, and against them it’s tough because their point guard (Wong) handles the ball so well.”
Wong did play a big role, not only did he finish with 14 points, he also had nine assists, many of which found their way to the Young twins for easy baskets in the paint.
“I thought the twins killed us,” Hart said. “Their point guard (Wong) did what I thought he was going to do, he finds his guys and doesn’t turn the ball over. I call it hockey assists. He doesn’t always get the main assists, but he gets it to the guy who gets it to one of the twins.
“That was the difference, they killed us in the paint, we gave up way too many easy baskets. I told the kids if we eliminated those we could win the game, but it’s easier to say than do. Plus, they did a good job of defending us.”
Tomes Montes, who had 33 points in the Braves’ second-round win over Villa Park, only finished with nine points, and Morelos had to be careful most of the second half, picking up his third foul a minute into the third quarter, and his fourth with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
“That hurts when your best player is limited in that regard, but Keppel played well, they really did,” Hart said. “I told our guys afterward, you set a school record with 24 wins and got to the quarterfinals for the first time in 26 years. It didn’t matter much when I told them, but it’s going to sink in later.
“Then I looked at the (juniors and sophomores) and said, ‘don’t wait another 26 years to get us back here. I’m no (San Dimas coach) Gary Prestasater. I won’t be around that long.'”
For Duong, it’s his first semifinal appearance after more than a decade at the school.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Duong said. “It’s tremendous. Hopefully I will sit down and enjoy it for a while, but already I’m thinking about the next game.”
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