Above: Rio Hondo Prep’s Charles Quintero deals with the tough loss to Valley Torah in the Division 6AA semifinals Monday night.
By Nathan Cambridge, Staff Writer
EL MONTE – Rio Hondo Prep gave the top-seeded Valley Torah boys basketball team all it could handle Monday night until the Kares’ offense collapsed.
The second-half offensive woes resulted in the Wolfpack’s 44-30 victory over the Kares in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6AA semifinals at Arroyo High.
“I thought we played really hard,” Rio Hondo Prep coach Ken Drain said. “We played the kind of game I wanted to. We just didn’t shoot well enough to win the game. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
The teams were deadlocked 26-26 at halftime before the Wolfpack (22-4) outscored Rio Hondo Prep 18-4 in the second half.
All four of the Kares’ points came in the third quarter while the Wolfpack managed just five of their own as Rio Hondo escaped trailing by one, 31-30, after three quarters.
Valley Torah then blanked the Kares the rest of the way, winning the final quarter 13-0.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on is being the best defensive team, and I think we proved that tonight,” Valley Torah coach Robert Icart said.
Thirteenth-seeded Rio Hondo Prep (10-16) had 12 field goal attempts blocked by Valley Torah center Aaron Liberman. The senior, listed at 6-foot-9, gave the center a significant size advantage he used to dominate at the rim and on the boards at both ends.
“(Liberman) has a great work ethic,” Icart said. “He really wanted it tonight.”
The Wolfpack’s big man had seven first-quarter blocks, including three of the first four Kares field goal tries, on the way to 10 in the first half. Liberman had two more blocks in the fourth quarter, including one from behind the rim after the Kares’ Alex Tayco who looked sure to score after a steal left him an open path to the basket.
“(Liberman) was making a huge difference,” Drain said. “We couldn’t get him in foul trouble so we tried to switch it and get him away from the basket, but he recovered really fast and it was really hard to score.”
Liberman also scored 11 points, with the final two coming on an emphatic two-handed dunk from the left baseline in the fourth quarter that drew a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
Emblematic of Rio Hondo’s second-half struggles, the Kares’ Jake Holguin missed both of the resulting free throws. In the final quarter, Rio Hondo Prep was 0 of 5 from the free throw line.
The Kares were led in scoring by sophomore Ryan Wiley, who finished with eight points – all in the first half. Three Kares scored six points as Dave Drain and Christian Torrico both made two first-half 3s.
Jake Holguin scored four of his six points in the third quarter, accounting for all his team’s second-half points. The sophomore’s coast-to-coast drive for a layup with 3:15 left in the quarter turned out to be Rio Hondo Prep’s final points of the night.
“We came into the playoffs a 7-15 team, so any win was good for us, and we played really well,” Drain said of the Kares’ run to the semifinals.